The 2014 Mason Tennis Team added two more state championships to their past 80 to culminate another great season. They captured their 12th straight team championship four weeks ago and traveled to Texas A&M University to put the exclamation mark on this year.
Mason entered the tournament with ten players playing in five events. The team of sophomore Kirsten Allen and freshman Kenley Stockbridge came into the tournament playing very well, however, they met a strong, athletic team from Wellington in the first round. The girls didn’t play their best in the first set as they both seemed very nervous. Mason dropped the first set 6-1, but continued to battle. Wellington got a break early in the second set and forced Stockbridge to serve at 3-5 to stay in the match. The team fought off five match points before Wellington slipped a ball behind us for the match.
It’s very tough to come out and play tentative and win at state. We tell the players “you can’t be afraid to lose and you can’t be afraid to win.” The team that comes out ready to play and remains consistent and aggressive usually comes out on top and Wellington did both better than we did.
Mason dropped its other number two team when the boy’s doubles team of senior Leret Hemphill and sophomore Seth Hudson bowed out in the semi-finals. Mason reached the finals by taking a straight set victory over Blue Ridge in the quarters on Monday morning. The boys were simply a much better team than was Blue Ridge as they over-powered them.
In the semi’s, Mason was not going to overpower the Miles team of Fischer and Fischer. This is the same Miles team that was second in state last year. They are great athletes that seem to get everything back in the court. We didn’t serve well nor did we return well. These are the most critical areas of the game and if you don’t win these two areas, you simply don’t win. This is what happened to us as Miles dominated us 6-0,6-1.
Mason did reach the finals with our senior mixed doubles team of Claudia Canfield and Nick Dyer. This was a rematch of the regional championship match in which Menard handed us a 6-1,6-2 loss. This time Mason played much better against the three time defending state champions. Riley Rambo and Taylor Lyckman area great mixed team as their record indicates. They have the complete package and we knew we would have to do some things differently and better if we were to be able to dethrone them.
Mason jumped off to a 2-0 lead, but Menard came back to capture the set 6-3. Mason continued battling in the second set by holding serve and breaking to bring the match to 5-4 with Lyckman serving. Taylor nailed four first serves and served out the match while recording the first four time sweep of the state championships by one team. Our hats are off to those two as they made history, but hats off to our kids as they made them have to earn the gold.
We knew going in we would have to change up the pace some, so we threw several soft underhanded serves in the match. They worked well as we won every point that we played underhanded if we put the serve in. It’s a little scary being up at the net knowing that your partner is about to hit a real soft serve and you have big hitters coming at you, but our kids did a great job.
The first gold medals of the tournament for Mason was earned by the senior doubles team of Carley Chew and Traci Jordan. Jordan had already won three state crowns while Carley has received a bronze and a silver. This team dominated their competition all the way thru the tournament. They started with a straight set win over Miles and then soundly defeated Era’s Anderson and Zavala in the semi’s. Traci was a little tight in the semi’s, but Carley showed her poise and confidence until her partner got it back together. When they both get on, there simply aren’t many teams around that can play with them.
In the finals, the girls took on Wellington (the same team that defeated our number two team). The girls came out firing and never let up taking the first set 6-2. We beat them to the net and beat them from the baseline. Passing shots and net winners were plentiful by the Cowgirls as they won 6-2 in the second set to start the celebration of Mason’s 81st state championship. These two young ladies truly deserved this title as they worked so hard all year. When they decided to go doubles together after team tennis, they spent lots of hours on the courts after everyone else was gone working on the basics and it truly paid off.
It wasn’t long after the girls finished that the senior boys team of Price Ruffin (defending state champion) and Coby Velez (2nd in state in 2013 in mixed doubles with Canfield) gave the Mason fans more to celebrate as they defeated Fischer/Fischer of Miles 7-5,6-2 for the state title. Mason earned its way to the finals by defeating Crowell in the opening round and then beating a strong Forsan team in the semi’s.
We felt as though Price and Coby had the toughest draw in the tournament, but they systematically disposed of their opponents with little problems. Both boys served and returned well. Coby was experiencing some shoulder aches, but with a little Advil and ice, he managed to continually hold serve.
In the finals, the boys were playing the backboard team of Miles. The boys came out very strong, up 5-2. We seemed to let down just a little at that point and missed a few returns and hit a couple of doubles to allow Miles a chance to get back in the match. Miles leveled the score at 5-5, but seemed to relax for just a moment which is exactly what many times happens. Our boys stepped up and started closing the net and playing much more aggressively and closed out the set 7-5. The second set was never in doubt as the Punchers dominated Miles to win the set 6-2 and earn the gold medal.
We are so proud of these kids. This was a senior laden team with ten seniors on the team. These guys have been great leaders and role-models for our younger players. They have shown our freshmen and sophomores what it takes to be champions both individually and as a team. They will be sorely missed, but they have passed the torch to a strong group of young players as Mason will field a very young team next year comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores. We will be relying on a few upper classmen to unify and keep the tradition going.