The Mason tennis team added three more state championships to its list of accomplishments this season. The team had already added a 10th straight 2A state team championship and now it has upped its individual state championship mark to 78 titles. Highland Park, a 4A powerhouse, is a distant 2nd place with 41 titles.
The biggest story of the tournament was Mason’s senior singles player, Matt Banner, made school and state history by being the first Mason player ever to win four state championships and became only the 18 player in Texas history reach this plateau. Matt walked through his first two matches without dropping a game.
He entered his finals match against his regional rival, Knippa’s Kennan Dishman. Matt came out very strong as he jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but Dishman rallied back to win the sixth game. We all knew what Matt’s goal was…to win the tournament without dropping a game. That game took a toll on Matt’s concentration momentarily as Dishman then went on to win the next three games to bring the score to 5-4. As a true champion will do, Matt regrouped and took the next game and the set.
I went up to talk to him at the end of the set and he looked up and told me that he had to get himself back into the match mentally…there was nothing else to say. He knew what he had to do and from that point on the match was totally in his hands as he captured the match 6-4,6-1 to make history. His initial reaction was…to put his hat on backwards. Matt always wanted to wear his hat backwards, but knowing the team policy, he never did. I told him when he was a freshman that if he won it four times in a row, he could turn it around. That he did, but he didn’t leave it that way for long.
Matt has been a great player and leader on this team for four years. I’ve never worked with anyone so dedicated to the sport and to being the best he can be. He will be sorely missed on the courts next year, but his tennis days are not over as he will be playing for St. Mary’s University in San Antonio next year. We wish him the very best…and he owes me a hat.
The next state championship was another repeat as the girls doubles team of Traci Jordan and Margaret Lemke captured their second straight title with a 6-2,6-3 win over last year’s runners-up, Wink.
Wink had already taken its toll on Mason as they managed to knock off Mason’s other girls doubles team of Claudia Canfield and Carley Chew in the quarterfinals. The sophomore Cowgirls showed a little case of nerves in the opening set as they dropped it 6-1. Wink’s senior team played a very consistent game and allowed us to make errors.
The Cowgirls started getting their nerves settled in the second set and battled back to 5-5. We played much more consistent, but were not able to put some key points away at the end of the second set. I felt that if we could have gotten the second set we would have taken the match. It’s real difficult to go to the state tournament for the first time and play a team that was in the finals last year. Those kids knew what to do and were more relaxed. Claudia and Carley will be ready next year as they will be one of the few teams that will be returning.
Jordan and Lemke started their run with another Wink team, but disposed of them very quickly with a 6-0,6-1 win setting up a semifinal matchup with Poolville. The Cowgirls doused the hopes of them with a 6-1,6-2 victory setting up a rematch from last year’s final; a final that showed a little nerves on the part of the Cowgirls. This year, there was no doubt from the onset who the best team was as the girls systematically crushed the senior Wildcat team 6-2, 6-3.
Now came the most exciting match of the tournament…in any division. The senior Puncher team of Andy Duarte (defending state champion) and Andrew Willis (bronze medalist last year) was pitted against a very strong and talented Reagan County team. Reagan County came out playing aggressive tennis. They were serving and returning better than were we. There net play was outstanding. We won the first point of the match and never regained the lead until late in the third set.
Even with Reagan County playing so well, Mason was able to run the first set to 7-5. The boys showed why previous state competition is so important. They refused to let their nerves get to them. We still weren’t playing our best tennis and we missed several shots that shouldn’t have been missed, but we remained composed and focused on the match battling back to take the second set 6-4. Now the score was knotted, but again the Owls jumped out front of the Punchers in the final set as they held what looked like an insurmountable lead at 2-5.
We reminded the boys that this was just one service break and all we had to do was to hold serve and break to get back in the match. With match points facing us, the boys continued to play big points in a big way and were able to hold, break, and hold to tie up the match at 5-5. The crowd was in a frenzy by this time…both supporters of Mason and Reagan County. At 5-5, the teams exchange service games held and entered into the sudden-death tiebreaker. Again, Mason found themselves quickly behind, but rallied to take a 5-4 lead in the breaker…only the third point of the match that Mason led. Willis then held his first service point setting up our first match point, but RC broke to bring the match to 6-4 in the breaker. Mason got a great return from Willis and forced the Owls into missing the last shot giving the Punchers its third title of the tournament.
Mason narrowly missed out on its fourth title as the mixed doubles team of Amanda Hudson and Rio Schmidt lost a heartbreaker to Menard’s defending state champions Taylor Lyckman and Riley Rambo. Hudson and Schmidt rolled in their first match as they dominated a team from Grady 6-2,6-0. They then drew the twin team from Canadian, Shelby and Ballard Saul. Canadian is a team that has been to state three times and was ready for the Mason duo. Both teams battled back and forth on one of the premier stadium courts, but Mason proved to be too strong as they took the match 6-4,6-4 setting up a rematch from the regional finals.
Mason had squeaked a 6-4,7-6 win at regionals over the Jacket team and everyone knew this was going to be a great match from the very beginning. We came out a little more nervous than Menard and struggled to hold each serve. We were forcing them to work very hard for their service games and had break points on almost every game they served…we just couldn’t come up with the break. You have to give credit where credit is due, Menard hit some big serves and big volleys at crucial times. Mason dropped the first set 6-4. We got down an early break in the second set. It is a credit to our kids as to how they performed when they were behind the entire match, but they kept coming back. We missed a lot of shots we don’t normally missed, but the best thing about it is that even though we weren’t hitting the shots, we were still going for it. Many players would back off and just try to get the ball in, but our kids kept going for shots. We didn’t choke down, we just didn’t play our best tennis of the year and that is what you have to do at the state meet. I was very proud of Amanda and Rio. We’ll miss Amanda next year and look forward to another year with Rio.
Another senior we will miss is Kaitlyn Cavness, Mason’s entry in girls’ singles. Kaitlyn entered the tournament as number one from Region IV. She drew Trenton’s Kristen Rhoden first round. Cavness disposed of her 6-1, 6-4. This set up a battle between Kaitlyn and Canadian’s Emily Lusk. Lusk was 2nd in state in 2009 and lost last year in a close match in the first round at state. We felt that we had a good game to play Lusk as she is a very consistent young lady, but lacks speed when moving toward the net or side to side. Our problem was we just never could get her moving. Kaitlyn never seemed to feel comfortable pulling Lusk forward as the drop shots that normally give opponent’s fits, all seemed to hit around the service line allowing Lusk to put us on the defense. All off our attempts to get her running from side-to-side seemed to end in balls landing inches out. It was a very frustrating match for Kaitlyn as nothing seemed to be going to plan. If we played her again, I’m confident that we would dominate her, but you only get one chance at state. Lusk simply played the match of her life at exactly the wrong time for us. Mason took five of its seven seniors to the state tournament. Those seven have been great leaders and are now ready to pass the torch on to a much smaller group of senior. They have led Mason and have set records that won’t be broken…maybe tied. We appreciate what each has done for our program. Now the two juniors, Margaret Lemke and Rio Schmidt will lead the team. Lemke has her chance next year to be only the second Mason player and the only Cowgirl to win four titles. Rio will be looking for his first and with his dedication, hopefully he will accomplish that. They will be leading a strong junior class that includes three that have been to the state tournament and several others that are of state quality. Combine this with one of the best incoming freshman classes; well, the tradition looks safe.
We would like to thank all those that made the trip to Austin to watch the state championship. It means so much to the players and coaches to have such support and to have that kind of contingency that understands the game and its etiquette. Mason tennis is truly the class of the state.