State titles were twice as nice on Bell Street and for the Texas Panhandle on Thursday as Amarillo High and Randall made history bringing back UIL team tennis championships with hard fought victories on the intramural courts of Texas A&M in College Station.
Amarillo High used a strong outing in doubles to take the UIL Class 5A title over Frisco Centennial 10-7 while Randall scratched and clawed for a hard earned 10-8 win over Boerne to claim the Class 4A state crown.
The No. 2-ranked AHS netters had built quite the resume heading into the state tournament amassing a 29-1 record with that lone loss coming to Class 6A Round Rock Westwood which also captured a state title on Thursday. During semifinal action against Austin LASA, Amarillo High built a 7-0 lead in doubles only losing one set during that time. Wasting no time, the Sandies finished off the Raptors in singles, winning 11-0, to advance to the finals against Frisco Centennial. In doubles action Thursday afternoon, AHS surged ahead 5-2 on the back of two key victories. State qualifiers from last spring, Wade Bryant and Taylor Vigil, avoided a sweep in boys doubles by taking a third set tiebreak 10-7. The other pivotal win came in mixed doubles thanks to Halle Rose and Gray Taylor. The duo was down 9-6 in the third set tiebreak and warded off seven match points to rally for a 15-13 win.
With a three-match lead, the Sandies quickly built on their advantage to take a 9-4 lead. Allex Gonzales led that charge for AHS winning her singles match 6-1, 6-1 as part of an undefeated state tournament. Centennial didn’t go down without a fight, however, as they notched three straight singles wins to crawl to within 9-7 before Taylor Vigil closed the door on any thought the Titans had of being remembered that day. As he had done with Bryant in doubles, Vigil split sets but took a thrilling third set tiebreak to catapult his team to victory, 10-7. The Sandies win was the first for an AISD school since 1996 when Tascosa brought home the gold and the first ever team title for Amarillo High who finished with a 31-1 season record.
“Let’s spill some guts” is what coach Darby Norman tells his team and that’s exactly what the Raiders did in capturing the first team tennis title in school history and capping an undefeated season at 35-0.
The top-ranked Randall squad made quick work of No. 4 Lindale in the semis with a 10-1 win to advance to the title game against No. 2 Boerne. According to UTR, the global rating system used in tennis to determine player’s skill level, this match was rated almost dead even. True to form, Randall lost two out of its three boys doubles matches, but won all three girls doubles and dropped the mixed doubles match. However, the determination of Carson Dyess and Bryson Shelton in boys’ number one doubles would be a difference maker. The duo dropped the first set 7-5 before winning the second set 7-6 in a 7-5 tiebreaker. That set up the super tiebreaker for the third set where the pair found themselves down 9-6 after an overturned double fault call went against Randall. After Norman protested the call, Dyess and Shelton used that moment to reset themselves and reel off five straight points. Up 11-10, a rally ensued where Boerne had a slam that was dug out and kept alive before Randall took the point and the match.
“That, in a lot of ways, was the match.” Norman said.
Randall now had the momentum.
During singles play the Raiders built a 9-6 lead thanks, in part, to a big win from Aidan Gilbert. Boerne battled back to get within 9-8 with Ella Hester and Gabby Dishong still playing. While Hester had just split sets, Dishong had battled back to 6-6 in the second set looking to force a tiebreaker. At that point, Hester found herself down 9-4 in the super tiebreak and staring at five straight match points. Norman said he never doubted Hester even with the deficit.
“Ella is our lead player,” Norman said. “She’s undefeated in singles play this year, and I couldn’t think of anyone else I would want on that court to seize that pressure”.
Seize the pressure she did as Hester rattled off eight straight points to capture the match and Randall’s first ever title. Norman, who picked up career victory No. 300 in the semifinals told his team on Wednesday that “300 was an amazing accomplishment but win 301 was going to be even better”.