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TAOS — Being the defending Class AAAA state champion means the members of the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls tennis team are walking around with red concentric circles on their backs this season.
And the Taos Tigers had the Hilltoppers flush in their sights Saturday.
The Tigers, Los Alamos’ biggest rival in District 2AAAA, gave the Hilltoppers everything they could handle Saturday at the Española Valley Quadrangular, played at the Quail Ridge Inn.
But with No. 1 singles player Grace Kim able to bounce back after a rough outing against Taos’ Erica Dimond in doubles and the eighth-grade duo of Gillian Hsieh-Ratliff and Madeline Margevicius coming through in a critical No. 3 doubles contest, Los Alamos held on to top Taos 6-3 in the second of two team contests Saturday.
Los Alamos knocked off the host Sundevils, who haven’t played an event in Española in more than three years because of their crumbling home tennis courts, 8-1 earlier in the day.
Kim and doubles partner Megan Townsley survived two tooth-and-nail sets against Dimond and her partner Jessica Christian, taking that match 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 to seal the Hilltoppers’ victory.
Just a few minutes before the start of the No. 1 doubles match, Kim was struggling mightily against Dimond, who was crushing baseline forehands throughout her 6-1, 6-0 No. 1 singles victory.
Taos swept the 1, 2 and 3 matches against Los Alamos, but Los Alamos’ No. 4, Townsley, No. 5 Hsieh-Ratliff and No. 6 Erin Dinehart all grabbed straight-set victories to put Los Alamos right back in the match.
With the team score sitting at 3-3, the contest came down to the doubles matches.
Once again, however, Hsieh-Ratliff/Margevicius pulled out a big win. That team earned a win at No. 3 doubles at Los Alamos’ previous outing two weeks ago, the Carlsbad Invitational, and came through again Saturday against Taos’ Brooke Jordy/Paisley Palmer.
“That’s a good doubles team” Hilltopper head coach Bruce Cottrell said. “They’re just little eighth-graders, but they both hit the ball well.”
Hsieh-Ratliff not only helped the No. 3 doubles team to the win, but picked up a solo win at No. 5 singles, dropping Taos’ Julia Romero 6-1, 6-1.
This weekend’s meet originally had four teams scheduled to compete, but a snowstorm that hit northern New Mexico Friday nixed the appearance of Farmington High School.
Los Alamos was scheduled to play Farmington Friday afternoon in what shaped up to be a rematch of the Class AAAA final in 2008 and a potential preview of the 2009 final. Farmington, with most of its players returning from the state runner-up finish a year ago, is considered to be Los Alamos’ main threat to a repeat team title.
But with Taos’ showing Saturday, Los Alamos saw that it won’t have just Farmington’s Scorpions to contend with this season.
Dimond and No. 2 Jessica Christian were both straight-set winners against Los Alamos, while Alex Cancro rallied from a set down against Margevicius to take the No. 3 singles 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Christian slugged it out at the baseline with Brenna O’Hara at No. 2 singles. O’Hara looked like she might take control of the first set after breaking Christian’s serve to go up 4-3, but Christian blasted a backhand right at O’Hara’s ankles to score a break of her own and retie the match.
Christian held afterward, then outlasted O’Hara through two long rallies, including a 18-hit affair at set point.
Earlier in the day, Los Alamos thudded Española Valley, losing only five games in the 3 through 6 singles contests.
That lopsided victory over the Sundevils, Cottrell said, will be the exception this season. Team contests like the Hilltoppers saw against the Tigers will likely be the norm from here on out.
“I don’t think we’re going to blow anybody out,” he said. “We’re deep, but we don’t have any great, great players.”