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ALBUQUERQUE – Bruce Cottrell didn’t even pretend he didn’t know where his program stood historically.
“This is our eighth victory, one more than Academy,” he said immediately after watching his Los Alamos Hilltopper girls win the Class 4A state tennis title Saturday night.
But Cottrell, the longtime head coach of the team, had to sweat out its championship match against the four-time defending champion Farmington Scorpions.
Los Alamos seemed to have the match well in-hand after going 4-2 in the singles competition, but dropped two of the first three doubles contests to Farmington, leaving the No. 2 doubles teams to battle it out for the state title.
But in the late evening – the singles matches were interrupted by a rain delay of about 33 minutes – the team of Susanna Lucido/Colleen Fitzsimmons finished off Farmington’s Allie Linville/Sydney Schumacher in straight sets to upset the Scorpions and claim the Hilltoppers’ first team title since 2008.
Even though Los Alamos won the No. 2 doubles title in straight sets, even the second set win didn’t come easily.
“We started losing,” Lucido said. “We lost three games in a row. We started coming down, but we needed just one more game and we couldn’t get that game. I felt awful, exhausted. It was so scary.”
Lucido/Fitzsimmons cruised to a 6-0 win in the first set over Linville/Schumacher and looked to be about ready to put set two away when it went up 5-2.
However, Linville/Schumacher mounted a comeback, picking up a break of Los Alamos to get back to within 5-4.
“We were trying to keep everyone on the edge of their seats,” Fitzsimmons said afterward. “Nerves got to us when we were just four points from being the state champs. At 5-4, I was like ‘we’d better get it together. We really got our heads in the game.”
But Los Alamos’ net game, which had been very effective throughout the tournament, came through once again.
With Schumacher serving at 4-5, both Fitzsimmons and Lucido scored big volley shots, including Lucido’s clincher.
The team final was tight throughout and for awhile it looked like Los Alamos might not get the chance to close out the contest in dramatic fashion.
Los Alamos was down a set in the No. 3 and No. 5 singles matches and Farmington’s Danielle Nguyen, one of the most talented young players coming up in 4A, was mounting a comeback at No. 1 singles against Madeline Margevicius after Margevicius took the first set.
But Fitzsimmons at No. 3 and Lucido at No. 5 got on a roll in the second set. Fitzsimmons, who struggled in the first set against Linville, gave up just two games in the final to sets to win there, while Lucido, who had to sweat out a tight 7-5 win in the second set against Schumacher, came back to win 6-3 in the final set and give Los Alamos two much-needed wins.
Nguyen, meanwhile, started out very strong in her second set, but Margevicius started outslugging her from the baseline.
Although Nguyen would prevail in the second set by a count of 6-4, the tide seemed to turn somewhat and Margevicius’ momentum carried into the third set.
She was up 2-0 before the rain delay and won two of the next three games to take a commanding lead.
Two days earlier, Margevicius and Gillian Hsieh-Ratliff combined to top Nguyen and Molly Merrion — who had been a member of all four state title winning teams — for the 4A doubles championship.
Merrion, however, bounced back well from that loss, topping Hsieh-Ratliff in straight sets, then Nguyen/Merrion got a measure of revenge from Thursday’s loss, taking the No. 1 doubles match in straight sets as well.
Earlier Saturday, Los Alamos topped Albuquerque Academy, which had been its main 4A rival at state until Farmington got on its impressive roll in 2009. Los Alamos won that semifinal contest 5-2, taking the Nos. 3-6 singles slots. No. 3 doubles team of Sidra Hsieh-Ratliff and Hannah Cunningham clinched that victory, closing out the Chargers early.
Sidra Hsieh-Ratliff, an eighth grader and Los Alamos’ top entry into the state singles draw this season, may be in line for the No. 1 singles spot in 2014. She played at No. 4 singles during the state tournament – topping Liza Briody-Pavlik 6-2, 6-3 in the team championship match – while Margevicius, Gillian Hsieh-Ratliff and Fitzsimmons are all seniors.
None of the Hilltoppers’ seniors had been part of a state championship title. Fitzsimmons, who had played with Los Alamos’ middle school team in seventh grade but was there in eighth grade when the Hilltoppers were downed by Farmington for the first of the Scorpions’ four straight titles, said after the match it was tough to describe how she and the rest of the team was feeling.
“We’re all kind of in shock,” she said. “We will be until it hits us. It’s amazing. We have two doubles players take state, then we win team state. It’s very, very exciting.”