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ALBUQUERQUE — There was little in the recent history of either Los Alamos or Farmington girls tennis to suggest the Hilltoppers stood much of a chance in the Class 4A doubles title match.
But that didn’t deter either Madeline Margevicius or Gillian Hsieh-Ratliff Thursday evening.
Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff came out firing in the first set, winning five straight games to set the tone against the powerful Farmington Scorpions’ squad of Molly Merrion/Danielle Nguyen.
Then, when Los Alamos needed it, the Hilltoppers put together a nearly-unstoppable attack at the net, putting away Merrion/Nguyen in a classic title match, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
“It’s surreal, it’s liberating,” said Hsieh-Ratliff, a five-year veteran of the program who had never tasted a state title until Thursday. “I feel like my senior year ended on a nice note. I’ve worked since eighth grade. All that’s come together…working so hard, but it’s all been worth it.”
Hsieh-Ratliff crushed an overhead volley right in between Merrion and Nguyen to put the final touches on the upset victory. Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff entered the 4A doubles draw as the No. 3 seed, while Merrion/Nguyen was the top seed.
Not only had Farmington owned Los Alamos since starting a very impressive four-year run at state, just a month earlier, Merrion/Nguyen topped Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff in straight sets.
The two teams have been duking it out at state for the past several seasons and Los Alamos has nothing but respect for the Farmington program.
“They’re awesome,” Margevicius said. “Farmington is such a good team. They’re so nice and they’re good people. But we have a mental block against them.”
That block didn’t cause Los Alamos to stumble Thursday, particularly Margevicius, who had quite possibly the best match of her career.
A week earlier, following Los Alamos’ decisive victory in the District 2 championship tournament, Margevicius said she and Hsieh-Ratliff needed to come up big at the net.
She apparently took her own advice to heart.
Against Farmington, Margevicius finished with a whopping total of 27 winners, the vast majority of those volleys at the net.
That total for Margevicius might have been higher had it not been for some very impressive pick-ups across the way by Nguyen, who had a big match herself at the net and at the baseline.
Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff breezed through the semifinals, dropping seventh-seeded Jesse Jennings/Alicia Romero of Roswell 6-1, 6-1.
The bottom side of the bracket was thrown into a tailspin after the top Albuquerque Academy doubles team of Ksenia Bosnia/Stacy Pollack, the No. 2 seed in the draw, reportedly because one of the players wasn’t allowed to leave school due to an exam being given at the same time as the team’s first round match Wednesday.
To advance to the semis, Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff topped another Farmington doubles team, the second of three Scorpion teams to advance from District 1, Riley Coleman/Liza Briody-Pavlik, in straight sets.
Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff bounce back from an early 2-1 deficit in the first set, reeling off four straight games and never looked back, taking the quarterfinal match 6-4, 6-2.
To start the final, Margevicius blasted a volley at the net to break Merrion’s serve right off the bat. Los Alamos couldn’t capitalize on the early break, however, with Farmington breaking Hsieh-Ratliff in the next game, which went to three deuces.
Margevicius held to tie the first set at 2-all, thanks to Merrion’s cross-court forehand that went just inches wide and Nguyen’s forehand on the next point that was just inches long.
That hold by Los Alamos seemed to kick the team into high gear. Los Alamos would go on to reel off the next four games and capture the set.
“The first set, we went in with a good mindset, that we were going to be very aggressive,” Margevicius said. “The second set we got more worried and we stopped attacking the net as much. That’s why the second set was so close.”
Farmington and Los Alamos grinded it out in the second set. Nguyen had a big set, scoring tough back-to-back backhand winners to break Margevicius and give the Scorpions a 5-3 edge late.
Los Alamos returned the favor against Merrion and Hsieh-Ratliff held to tie the set at 5-all, but Nguyen scored an ace and put away an approach shot on her next service game to give her team the edge back and give the final swing of momentum in the set back to the Scorpions.
Margevicius, Hsieh-Ratliff and head coach Bruce Cottrell regrouped following the set and the team realized it had to go back to the more aggressive stance it took in set one.
It worked wonders. Los Alamos jumped out to a 3-0 set lead, breaking both Merrion and Nguyen early. Farmington fought back with Merrion picking up two winners during her service game to put the Scorpions back to within 3-2.
That would be the Scorpions’ last hurrah, however. Hsieh-Ratliff needed just four serves to win the next game. Margevicius would close out the contest from the service line two games later, with the teams battling through four deuces before Hsieh-Ratliff’s final crushing blow.
“It was crazy,” Hsieh-Ratliff said. “Every point counts, but as soon as I set up and hit it, I knew that was the shot.”
Los Alamos and Farmington could well meet again in the team 4A finals this weekend — Farmington has won four straight team titles and is seeded No. 1 while the Hilltoppers are the No. 3 seed — and the two teams have played several close contests this season, although all of those matches have been won by the Scorpions.
Nevertheless, Margevicius and Hsieh-Ratliff were able to break through and pick up that state title that has eluded Los Alamos. Margevicius/Hsieh-Ratliff became the first Hilltopper girls doubles team to win it all since Hannah Johnson/Ashley Bonner in 2005.
“It means a lot,” Margevicius said of the win. “My senior year, now’s the time. It feels good.”