ST. GEORGE – Not that long ago, Region 9 had a tight grip on the state tennis championships. With multiple titles by Pine View and Desert Hills, it seemed the road to the championship went through southern Utah.
Now, Title Boulevard runs right through Park City, and Region 9’s best tennis players want to change that. Region 9 champion Desert Hills, along with Pine View and the rest make their way to the 4A State Tournament at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday.
Looking to three-peat, the Miners of Park City enter this year’s tournament as the favorites. After winning by 13 points in 2016, the Miners will undoubtedly have a target on their back. Yet, teams like Ridgeline and D-Hills – the other two teams besides Park City that swept all five positions in their respective regions – hope to steal the spotlight in 2017. With each match carrying a great deal of importance, teams will strive to rely on experience and stamina to gain any advantage possible in this two-day crusade.
“You [have] to be at the top of your game right away,” said Pine View coach Dave Crawford. “There is no working yourself into the tournament like in years past. You’ve got to be ready to go from day one and then it only gets harder from there. Whoever comes out as the state champion is going to well have earned it in 4A because it is going to be difficult.”
After having swept the field at region, the Desert Hills Thunder enter state with quite a bit of momentum on their side. Though D-Hills coach Dave Smith believes his team to be a slight underdog to the defending champs, Park City, he doesn’t seem to think other schools would agree.
“I don’t think [we] were any surprise at all,” Smith said. “I think they do see us as a valid, competitive team.”
D-Hills showed plenty of consistency this year as it only dropped one set – not match or game – but set during the entirety of region play, which came in last week’s region tournament.
Even though it will be tough, Smith said a couple of things need to happen in order for the Thunder to be No. 1: Getting a good draw in the seeding, and winning tight, important matches. Talent-wise, the Thunder are “neck-and-neck” with the likes of Park City and Ridgeline, Smith said. The team will need to play with the same belief as they have had all season, he said.
“I have as much faith in these freshmen and sophomores as I do in my junior and seniors,” Smith said. “There is not an ounce of fear in any of my girls.”
Following their third place finish last year, the Thunder will look to rely on the likes of their 1st doubles duo – seniors Erica Evans and Abbie Carmack – and 1st singles player Morgan Behymer to earn some valuable team points as they attempt to move on from Friday to Saturday.
Evans and Carmack find themselves in a tough situation as they have Park City’s 1st doubles on their side of the bracket, followed by Ridgeline’s 1st doubles in the potential championship should they prevail in the semifinals.
Though there is a chance for a championship rematch in 1st singles from last year with Park City’s Livi Rockwood and Ridgeline’s Naya Tillitt, D-Hill’s Behymer or Pine View’s Brielle Callahan may have something to say about that.
Smith said the tournament is going to be close and competitive. He also mentioned that not a single girl on his team wants to lose.
Pine View, after finishing in sixth place a year ago, hopes to make a name for itself at state, too. With an impressive season and a good showing at the region tournament, the Panthers will seek to make some noise as a team that is flying under the radar.
From the beginning of the season, it has been the Panther’s goal to win state, Crawford said. The team hasn’t “had a bad a practice” all year. Though the girls are nervous, they have the confidence to do well, Crawford said.
With the likes of Callahan and 1st doubles Ryann Blaser and Charisse Snow, one can expect the Panthers to “play without fear, play hard, and move [their] feet” – a constant reminder from Crawford to his team throughout the season.
Hurricane, Dixie and Snow Canyon will also be sending players to the big tournament, giving Region 9 a good representation among the top 4A schools throughout the state.
“The girls have just worked really hard all season,” Smith said. “We have a very legitimate chance to do something special at state.”
The 4A State Tournament will begin Friday at 9 a.m. and wrap up Saturday afternoon.
To see the complete bracket for this year’s 4A State Tournament, please visit the UHSAA tennis website.
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