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Lenape junior aces test of endurance

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – It took 184 minutes, one banana, three large Gatorades, two small Gatorades, and three bottles of water.

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – It took 184 minutes, one banana, three large Gatorades, two small Gatorades, and three bottles of water.

"That's more liquid than I've ever put in my body in my life," Lenape junior tennis player Mike Humes said.

Humes needed all that hydration, plus all his skill and will, to score a dramatic three-set victory over Montgomery sophomore Mitchell Ren on Thursday in the semifinals of the Group 4 state tennis tournament.

Humes' victory in an epic match secured a 3-2 team triumph and propelled Lenape into the state finals for the first time in program history. The Indians lost to Westfield, 3-2, in the state finals.

"The biggest display of guts I've ever seen by one of my players," Lenape coach Tony Guerrera said of Humes' effort in the semifinals.

Humes rallied from a set down, won a tiebreaker in the second set, and battled back from a 4-2 deficit in the third set. He finally secured a 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4 victory at 12:14 p.m. in a match that started at 9:10 a.m.

"One of the longest matches I've ever played in my life," Humes said. "I just had to outlast him."

It wasn't just the length of the match that pushed Humes to the limit. The stakes also were a factor.

The team match was tied, 2-2, after Lenape's Nikola Kocovic and Mike Perrone won in singles and the Indians lost in both doubles competitions.

But those matches were over a good hour before the end of the Humes-Ren marathon.

For all that time, Humes and Ren exchanged ground strokes in endless rallies, battled through games that always seemed to reach deuce, and switched sides time and again as players and fans from both teams gathered around and cheered every point.

It was high-level, high-pressure tennis - and it lasted for more than three hours on a hot, humid morning that became a hot, humid afternoon.

"I live for those moments," Humes said. "Everybody is watching you. You know your team is depending on you."

The match was a classic, as the players were virtual mirror images – patient ground-stroke specialists who returned shot after shot after shot.

"He plays like I play," Humes said. "He's the hardest kind of player to beat. You have to grind out every single point."

Humes deserved the spotlight. He probably would be the No. 1 singles player on 95 percent of the teams in the state, if not more.

But he has been Lenape's No. 2 guy, behind undefeated Kocovic, for three years. Humes has a 36-1 record. His lone loss this season was to Kocovic by 6-4, 6-3 in the finals of the South Jersey Interscholastic.

"It's kind of like a rivalry," Humes said of his relationship with Kocovic. "I train with him all the time. I wish I could beat him just once. He's a great tennis player, a great athlete, and a great guy. Training with him, that's the reason I was able to win this match."

Despite playing for more than three hours in the semifinals, Humes came back and won his match in the finals, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).

"That shows his character," Guerrera said.

In the semifinals, Humes trailed by 4-3, 30-40 in the third set when he rocketed a backhanded service return down the line for a winner. He won the next two points, and the next two games – although nearly every step forward was a struggle against the remarkably consistent Ren.

In the end, Ren suffered cramps for the second time in the third set and could barely finish. He double-faulted on match point, then hobbled to the net to shake Humes' hand.

"I just wanted to give everything I had for my team," Humes said.