Hsieh-Ratliff, doubles advance in 4A tourney

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — Say this about the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls tennis team: it likes to keep things interesting.
On the first day of the Class 4A state championship tournament, the Hilltopper doubles team of Hannah Cunningham/Astrid Hengartner went down to the wire in set one and dropped set two to set up a big third set against a team from Albuquerque Academy.
But the duo prevailed and advanced in the 4A doubles draw, which is scheduled to conclude this evening at the Jerry Cline Tennis Center in Albuquerque.
The Hilltoppers advanced three singles players, along with Cunningham/Hengartner into the championships this season.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s play, the Hilltopper doubles team and No. 1 player Sidra Hsieh-Ratliff were left standing.
Hsieh-Ratliff, who garnered a No. 4 seed in the singles tournament, outlasted a tough opponent from Del Norte, Shelby Harrison. Harrison was able to dig out many tough shots throughout their two sets, but Hsieh-Ratliff prevailed 6-2, 6-4.
With Harrison making some tough returns on the other side, Hsieh-Ratliff went to the baseline and made Harrison go laterally until she had an opening.
“I felt like I needed to hit the corners,” Hsieh-Ratliff said. “She was able to get everything back, so I felt like I had to play a little better.”
Going into the corners paid off. Hsieh-Ratliff hit numerous precise forehands that finally got past Harrison to score.
That won’t be the last the Hilltoppers see of the junior Harrison, however. Del Norte will move into District 2-4A next season and Harrison could be right in the mix to again advance to state tournament play.
Last weekend, Hsieh-Ratliff topped teammate Laura Whicker for the district individual crown. However, heading into state, the Hilltopper freshman was feeling pretty ho-hum about her recent play.
“I’ve been in a little bit of a funk. I don’t think I’ve been doing that well in practice,” Hsieh-Ratliff said. “But (head coach) Bruce (Cottrell) thinks I have.”
In other singles action Wednesday, Whicker ran into a tough opponent to start. Carrie Alberson of Centennial, the No. 3 seed in the girls draw, used a big-swinging power game to keep Whicker off-balance for most of their contest.
Alberson took the first set 6-1, then jumped ahead 5-0 in set two.
Whicker did mount a bit of a comeback in the second set, however. She reeled off three straight games, then had Alberson at break point in a fourth game before Alberson came back to win that game and the match, taking set two 6-3.
In the other singles match, Lauryn Anaya couldn’t get much going against Farmington’s Sydney Schumacher. Schumacher moved the ball around the court effectively. Although Anaya was able to make some returns, she was on the defensive most of the second set and ended up falling 6-1, 6-1.
In the doubles contest, Los Alamos’ team had to slug its way through a rough stretch early in the first set.
Academy’s team of Mary Pat Abruzzo/Emily Romero picked up a break early to go up 3-1 and went up 15-30 with Cunningham serving the following game, but Hengartner put away two quick volleys, splitting Abruzzo/Romero at the net, and Cunningham followed up with a big overhead volley to hold.
The two teams went to a first set tiebreaker, but Los Alamos won the tiebreaker relatively handily, 7-4.
A stiff, swirling wind was a big factor in the match and Hengartner said it affected what the Hilltoppers were trying to do, particularly in the second set, which Academy dominated.
But she said after she and Cunningham switched up strategy in set three, things went considerably better.
“That third set, we knew we could do it,” Hengartner said. “We refocused and we played with more intensity. We went into that set with a new mindset.”
Los Alamos jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third set, breaking Abruzzo early, then cruised to a 6-3 victory to advance to today’s play.
Personally, it was a big victory for Cunningham, who had never advanced past the first round at state prior to Thursday.
Cunningham also won a key three-set victory last weekend at the district tournament, topping Dakota Haraden of Santa Fe in singles play to help Los Alamos win the 2-4A team title.