Huntington High dominates
HUNTINGTON -- Huntington High boys and girls tennis teams have won the last two state championships in Class AAA, and, if the Region IV competition was any indication the Highlanders will be making a serious run at three-peats.
On the final day of regional competition Friday at the Ritter Park Tennis Center, there was a Highlander in every boys and girls singles or doubles final, and Huntington High won them all except for two on the girls' side, the No. 4 singles and the No. 3 doubles.
The regional was a qualifier for the state tournament coming up next week (May 9-11) in Charleston.
On the boys' side, Huntington High finished with 28 points, with Cabell Midland and Logan tied for second with 14. The Huntington High girls finished with 26 points, with Hurricane a little closer behind with 23.
Not everything was a cakewalk, though.
For the first time, sophomore and defending boys state champ Hunter Tubert found himself behind in a match in the No. 1 seed bracket when Hurricane's Alex Clay went up two sets to none early.
In a defining moment in the match, Tubert went into the chain-link fence surrounding the court to keep a ball in play, and wound up winning the point on the ensuing rally.
Turbert defeated Clay, 8-2.
"It's frustrating," he said. "Alex was playing really well, caught me off guard winning one game after another. You just have to grind. That's what I train for.
"If I'm able to grind it out and get a ball back in, and get a point, it's a good feeling."
The competitors were civil on the court, although a lack of calling balls in or out early in the contest created a bit of an undercurrent of animosity.
"Every once in a while we missed a few calls, and that maybe caused a bit of tension," Tubert said. "But Alex is a good friend of mine, and I think in the end it all went well."
Tubert also won the No. 1 seed doubles bracket with partner Campbell Neighborgall, defeating Clay and Jordan Chapman of Hurricane in the final, 8-4.
Just about everything came easy on the girls side in the No. 1 singles and doubles bracket for Huntington High junior Cassie Mercer.
Mercer defeated Hurricane's Kayla McKnight in the regional final, 8-0, and went through the entire bracket without losing a set.
Mercer and doubles partner Braddick Price blew through semifinals and finals in the No. 1 bracket, winning both matches, 8-1.
Mercer, who typically eschews the limelight despite her place in the state tennis world, said she simply tries to maintain her focus and let everything come naturally on the court, and will do the same at the state competition.
She also said she doesn't overlook any opponent.
"I can't let someone get a few games on me and get their confidence going," she said with a nervous laugh. "I'm not really relaxed. I'll practice again tonight getting ready for state."
Ashley White of Hurricane won the girls No. 4 bracket over Huntington's Price, 8-4. White and doubles partner Paige Phillips also won the No. 3 bracket in the last match of the tournament, 8-6, over Huntington High.