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Same as it ever was: West smashes resurgent East in regular season finale
Though Plano West head coach Morgen Walker was quick to point out the district champion will be determined during this week's 10-5A Tournament, the Wolves tennis team laid claim to the regular season title Monday.
West (5-0 in district) did so in a 17-2 win over East (4-1) at Gleneagles Country Club.
"We don't want to lose any district match," Walker said. "And obviously it's better to win this match than lose because you want to go into the district tournament with some momentum."
The Wolves again built their momentum in doubles.
East got on the board with a three-set win from seniors Brendan Hopper and Miles Lee (No. 2 boys), but West fired back with straight-set victories by seniors Calvin Lee and Sean Slater (No. 1 boys), sophomore Anshul Pandey and freshman Titus Strom (No. 3 boys), juniors Cassi Pollock and Seema Prakash (No. 2 girls), freshmen Brittany Bennett and Tori Simmons (No. 3 girls), seniors Maddy Thompson and Adam Mlynarczyk (mixed) to take a 5-1 lead.
"We played smart tennis," Thompson said. "We played the way coach told us to, what we call 'Walker doubles.'"
That method was on display a couple days prior too as Thompson and Mlynarczyk staged a three-set comeback victory over Class 4A powerhouse Highland Park.
"That match was really fierce," Thompson said. "Highland Park is always at that state level too, so it's a good measuring stick for us."
Thompson and Mlynarczyk had the most lopsided doubles win Monday, with the closest match coming at No. 1 girls with West sophomore Alahna Reto and Emily Houston facing East senior Agata Jakubowska and junior Ashwini Kulkarni. The Lady Wolves took the first set, 7-6, but the Lady Panthers forced a tiebreaker with a 6-2 win in the second.
"We had a tough setback in the second, but credit to East for taking it away from us," Reto said. "After that, we went into the tiebreaker knowing it was 0-0 again and knowing we had to be aggressive if we wanted to win."
West displayed it aggression with several smashes, but the breaker stayed tied at each point up to 4-4. A Lady Wolves' winner and Lady Panthers' double fault created some separation at 6-4 and West continued its step-in-front smash barrage with Reto registering one for a 9-5 lead and Houston doing the same for the 10-7 win.
That gave West a seemingly insurmountable 6-1 lead at the turn.
The tiebreakers rolled into singles as well with the Wolves winning 11-of-12 matches thanks to a 5-1 record in the third set.
"Look, there is a reason West is ranked No. 2 in the state," said Don Allen, East head coach. "Those three-set matches usually come down to one, two, three points and so many of those West kids have been through that before; they know what to do in those matches and they expect to win."
"No doubt our kids have been through a lot of those matches and situations before," he said. "Come crunch time they know they have to step it up and if you look at our record in those types of matches, we win a lot more than we lose."
Mlynarczyk (No. 1), Slater (No. 2), sophomore Race Collins (No. 3) and senior Jason Jung (No. 6) won three-set matches on the boys side with across-the-board 10-8 finishes.
Pandey (No. 4) and Strom (No. 5) won in straight sets.
"We put up some very solid scores," Allen said. "Our boys knew there wasn't a big gap between us and West and I think we showed that; we never felt outmatched or outclassed."
There was a pair of matches that went the distance on the girls side too with Jakubowska (No. 2) winning for East and Pollock (No. 3) victorious for West. The rest of the matches were sweeps for the Lady Wolves with Reto (No. 1), Bennett (No. 4), Simmons (No. 5) and Rubina Sawal (No. 6) setting the final at 17-2.
"It's been a tradition here that we win district matches," Reto said. "And if we don't do that, it would feel like there was a little hole inside us."
The stakes step up Monday with the start of the District 10-5A Tournament.
"It's showtime," Walker said. "The kids know that and they know what to expect. At most, the seniors have three weeks and eight matches left in their team tennis careers; and they don't want it to end early."
The top two teams from the district tournament, which the Wolves have won 12 consecutive years, advance to the Oct. 26-27 Region II Tournament in Tyler.
Play commences at 4:15 p.m. Monday with McKinney (No. 6 seed) at McKinney Boyd (No. 3) and Plano Senior (No. 5) at Allen (No. 4). West (No. 1) hosts the Plano/Allen winner in the semifinals at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday while East hosts the McKinney/Boyd winner at the same time.
With West the overwhelming favorite to take the event and McKinney yet to win a 10-5A match, the other regional qualifier should come from the Boyd-East match.
East, which hasn't advanced to regionals since 2007, beat Boyd (12-7) earlier in the season when the Broncos were without their No. 2 girls player.
"We are optimistic going into that match, but we know Boyd is going to be hungry so we have to match that intensity," Allen said. "For all practical purposes, this is our season right there. The kids know this is a huge opportunity and it's going to come down to who is playing best when it matters most."