Highlanders crowned tennis champs
CHARLESTON -- Even though Huntington High had clinched the Class AAA girls championship on Friday, that didn't stop them from being workmanlike again on championship Saturday in the West Virginia High School Tennis Tournament.
The final day of matches was forced inside the Indoor Tennis Center in Kanawha City because of heavy rain late Friday night and continous showers Saturday.
"They were awesome. They finished it off in style," Huntington coach Joanie Poole said.
The Highlanders won four of a possible five individual championships and finished with 16 points to make their third straight title official. Hurricane and Morgantown tied for second, and Hurricane got that spot on a tie-breaker.
Huntington High junior Cassie Mercer won at No. 1 singles for the third straight year, then teamed up with Braddick Price to take No. 1 doubles. Rachele Subik prevailed in a three-set marathon to capture No. 3 singles. And Lauren Mahaney and Katie Huck capped off the long day with a championship at No. 2 doubles.
"It feels the same as the other times," said Mercer, who's given a verbal commitment to the University of Virginia to continue her tennis career, of the three-peat. "I try to play as good as I can and hope it's enough. The team part is great. Now it's time to celebrate."
Her play was more than enough to overwhelm Morgantown's Stephanie Arnold, 6-0, 6-3.
In Class AAA boys, sophomore Hunter Tubert repeated as No. 1 singles champ for the Highlanders and he and Campbell Neighborgall took home the No. 1 doubles crown as well. George Washington had 19 points to end runner-up Huntington High's title streak at two, but coach Aaron McGuffin said taking second spoke well for a young team. The Highlanders totaled 13 points.
"For having one experienced player (Tubert), not bad," McGuffin said. "George Washington's just a good team." The Patriots finished 3-0 against Huntington in 2013.
Tubert had to rely on volleys to get past Martinsburg's Grant Davis, 6-2, 6-1.
"Besides volleys, a D," Tubert said when asked to grade his performance. "That's the only thing I could really do. My ground strokes were bad."
During a changeover in the first set, Tubert elected to start moving to the net and that strategy paid off as Tubert handed Davis (28-1) his first loss.
"I had to find something that would work and put pressure on him," Tubert said. "There definitely was pressure going in. Winning a second time feels good. I was so nervous and I don't know why. It's a little disappointing for the team, but I'm proud of the way we battled all year."
"He's an amazing player," Davis said of Tubert. "I was excited to play him. He can step it up when he needs to."
Tubert and Neighborgall topped George Washington's Ryan Massinople and Zach Koenig, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Tubert clinched it with a powerful volley after a strong serve. It was a sweet win for Neighborgall, who lost in the semifinals at No. 2 singles Friday.
"I played miserably," he said. "This is much better."
"We ended it with a bang," Tubert said. "I'm so happy for Campbell and the way he bounced back today."
Subik and Hurricane's Lindsay Goff were meeting for the fifth time. Subik, a sophomore, began with a 3-1 edge and won the first set 6-2. Goff came back to take the second 6-3 only to see Subik race to a 4-1 lead in the third set. However, Goff rebounded and held serve to take a 6-5 lead. That meant Subik had to hold on her serve, which she did to get even at 6-6 and force a tiebreaker. Subik won that, 7-3, to end the 2-hour, 37-minute match and give her two straight state titles.
"The first set was unexpectedly easy," Subik said. "The second set she came back and I knew I'd have to dig in. She was putting away shots and there was nothing I could do."
Subik said Poole gave her valuable advice during the 10-minute break prior to the third set.
"She said walk out and treat it like a new match," Subik said. "I was thinking technique and play the way I'm used to playing."
Subik raced to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak, then Goff won the next two points on her serve. With Subik serving for the match, she got the ball in and watched a return by Goff go long for the game-winner.
"I was thinking only one more point," Subik said. "That ball went long and I said, 'Oh my goodness.' The match was a fight to the end and I earned this one."
At No. 1 doubles, Mercer served an ace to clinch the 6-1, 6-4 win over Parkersburg's Cassandra Powell and Amber Kesterson. It was the last match for Price, who until this season hadn't played tennis since the eighth grade. It was her last shot at a state title as she lost in the regional finals at No. 4 singles and that limited her to doubles only at the state. Price played soccer for the Highlanders for four years, but they never made it to the state tournament.
"This felt better," Price said. "It would've been nice to get two (titles). One's better than none. That's the reason I played. I wanted a state championship and finally got it."
In Class AA/A boys, Charleston Catholic's Mark Cassis beat Huntington St. Joe's Max Meade in straight sets to win No. 1 singles and atone for the three-set loss to Meade a year ago.
Cassis got a service break to win the first set and he dominated the second to run his mark against Meade to 4-0 for 2013.
"He played much better," Meade said. "He was more consistent. I tried to hit out to see if he'd make mistakes, but he kept getting the ball back. It got away from me in the second set and he got stronger. It was just a bad day."
Charleston Catholic swept the boys and girls titles. The Irish boys didn't lose a match over three days and racked up 22 points. The Irish girls had 15 to eight for No. 2 Ravenswood.