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Raichur/Whicker capture state title

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — It was a long time coming, but for Los Alamos’ top doubles team of Patrick Raichur and Matt Whicker, it couldn’t have been much better.

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The duo of Raichur and Whicker grabbed the first doubles title for the Hilltoppers’ program since 1989 Thursday at the Class AAAA state championship tournament.

Raichur/Whicker downed Albuquerque Academy’s duo of Jordan Key/David Zumwalt in the final round Thursday afternoon. While the second set of the contest was somewhat of a struggle, Raichur/Whicker gutted the set out.

Just don’t ask Raichur how.

“I don’t even know,” said the giddy senior following the team’s win. “I’m just stoked right now. I’ve gotten so close for so many years. It feels amazing.”

Heading into the tournament top-ranked boys doubles team in Class AAAA, Raichur/Whicker, needed some priming to get going Thursday, but once  they did, the team waltzed into the finals of the state tournament.

In fact, in all their matches Thursday, Raichur and Whicker had to come from behind in at least one set, but took all three contests in straight sets to earn the title, including a two-game deficit in the second set against Key/Zumwalt.

Zumwalt held his serve to put the Chargers up 4-2. The Hilltoppers struggled in that game, hitting two volleys into the net and having another sail well long.

Then, with Raichur serving the following game, Los Alamos immediately dropped the first two points to put itself in a hole, but battled back to deuce. Two serves later, Zumwalt put a forehand into the net to pare the lead down to one game and keep the Hilltoppers alive in the set.

Whicker, a lefty who has played at the No. 2 singles spot for Los Alamos this season, said the team simply kept its eyes on the prize throughout the rough spots.

“It feels incredible,” he said. “It’s just what I was hoping for my whole time in high school. We finally did it. We kind of got lucky with the draw and we were able to play well…We stayed focused. That was the big thing.”

Both Raichur and Whicker had been among the top players for the Hilltoppers for each of the past three seasons, but had elected not to join forces until this season.

Los Alamos head coach Giri Raichur said he knew if the two ever did decide to team up, the duo would have a chance to do great things.

“I talked to them and I listed for them their strengths and their weaknesses,” coach Raichur said. “Their strengths outnumbered their weaknesses…everything fell together. For the last two weeks, I’ve felt like they were becoming the team I’ve dreamed of.”

The early deficits the team faced didn’t prove to be much of a problem for Raichur/Whicker in the tournament. Against Goddard’s David Sweet/Konnor Kundomal, Raichur/Whicker reeled off six straight games in the first set — Raichur’s ace to tie the set at 3-3 seemed to be the match’s tipping point — and won big, 6-3, 6-1.

In the semifinals against Zach Pavlik/Isaac Bickel, the Farmington squad scored early breaks in both sets, but some timely groundstrokes at the up position by Whicker and a couple of nifty, spin-around volleys from Raichur seemed to frustrate Pavlik/Bickel and get the team out of its game, particularly in the second set after fighting tooth-and-nail to go up 2-3.

“I think we were really effective with our shots,” Whicker said of the semifinal contest. “We volleyed well. We were just hitting solidly. There was not a lot they could do. We were just on top of it.”

Prior to Thursday, Los Alamos hadn’t won a doubles title since the team of Hari Viswanathan/Steve Cessna grabbed the AAAA tournament title 21 years ago.

“I’m happy how we played,” Patrick Raichur said. “Every match we kind of started out slow but we definitely finished on the high end.”

The Hilltoppers also had two singles players still alive heading into Thursday.

After earning a solid, straight-set victory the night earlier, Hilltopper Chase Havemann fell in Thursday morning’s quarterfinal round to Harsh Ganjawala of Goddard. While Havemann was able to put some shots away in the deep corner in the opening set, Ganjawala’s hard service game and solid net game proved to be too much, winning that match 6-3, 6-3..

Stephen Townsely, who likewise breezed through to the quarterfinal round, topping Grants’ Jeremy Gallegos 6-1, 6-0, ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Academy’s Thomas Cooper.

Cooper, one of the most impressive players in the state prep ranks, knocked off Townsley with two impressive sets, winning 6-0, 6-2.

Cooper would ultimately go on to win the AAAA state title, upsetting Chargers teammate Jeff Adolf, the No. 1 boys seed, in the final.