Tennis: Toppers sweep District 2-4A team titles

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By Mike Cote

TAOS — Neither of the Los Alamos Hilltopper tennis teams could be entering the postseason on a much higher note than they are.

Both teams won big at this weekend’s District 2AAAA team and individual tournaments, which were held at the Quail Ridge Inn Friday and Saturday.

Los Alamos knocked off Taos in both boys and girls competition Saturday, winning the team tournament and securing a spot in the state Class AAAA tournament which gets going Friday in Albuquerque.

The Hilltopper boys blanked Taos’ Tigers 6-0 in singles competition — the doubles matches were foregone because both the Hilltoppers and Tigers doubles teams were well-worn from the weekend’s competition — to secure the team title.

In the girls competition, Los Alamos held on to beat Taos 6-2, although Hilltopper head coach Bruce Cottrell was once again quick to point out that several of the finals matches were tight and the dual still could’ve gone either way.

“We won, but we were supposed to, I guess,” Cottrell said. “But it’s tough to beat a team like Taos four or five times in one season. They’re a good program. We played less well (Saturday), but it’s always a good end to the regular season to win a district title.”

In the individual competition, Los Alamos girls’ won seven of the nine possible spots, taking the district’s three individual contests and two of the three doubles places.

Los Alamos’ boys fared even slightly better, taking two of the three singles berths and all three doubles berths, putting 8 of 9 team members in the state bracket.

Patrick Raichur, Los Alamos’ No. 1 singles player, took his second straight District 2AAAA individual honors Saturday for the boys, and Brenna O’Hara was a straight-set winner in Saturday’s 2AAAA girls final to pick up her first district individual title.

Both Raichur and O’Hara had to fend off teammates in their district title matches. Raichur topped Ben Havemann 6-3, 6-4 to earn his title, while O’Hara bettered Chelsy Smith in the girls final 6-1, 6-0.

“I feel really good,” Raichur said. “It’s a good marking point for state. It should give me a really good seeding for state so I won’t have to play the top two right away.”

O’Hara did her absolute best to keep the mood of the final and the semifinal match before it against Hilltopper Elyse Jalbert as lighthearted as she could, trying to ease the awkwardness of having to play a big match against a teammate.

Throughout the first set of her semifinal, O’Hara would announce the score in her best Wimbledon, England accent, while against Smith she would make sarcastic comments about virtually every shot.

O’Hara, the top seed in the girls draw, blanked Capital’s Alma Martinez, 6-0, 6-0 to advance to the semifinal.

“I’m really excited,” O’Hara said of the upcoming state tournament. “The team is going in as the district champ, me as a sophomore being district champ. It’s a good feeling, especially having (won) the district championship on my own, not with a partner or anyone else, except Bruce. Nothing happens without Bruce.”

Raichur’s and Havemann’s finals match was relatively jovial as well, with Havemann joking throughout the warm-up that he wasn’t going to give Raichur any breaks when calling the lines.

There was little foolery going on in Havemann’s semifinal match against Garrett Cottam of Taos, however.

In the third set, Havemann found himself down 4-2 to Cottam, who broke Havemann’s serve with an outstanding cross-court backhand to the deep corner.

Havemann would immediately return the favor, then hold at 3-4 to knot the score, but Cottam would catch Havemann on a pair of approaches with strong passing shots to hold and take what seemed like a commanding 5-4 lead.

“One mistake and I’d be donezo,” Havemann said. “I had to focus on getting the ball in. In the first set we hit the ball as hard as we could. In the third set we were just getting the ball in, trying not to make mistakes.”

Havemann rallied, holding after a deuce to make the score 5-5, then lacing an approach down the center of the court to break Cottam and move ahead 6-5.

The set went to a tiebreaker, where Havemann was dominant, hitting a crushing cross-court winner to go up 6-2 before Cottam hit a forehand long to end it.

Havemann said the team’s play impressed him this weekend.

“We’re doing well at the right time,” he said. “We’re all peaking before state.”

In boys doubles, Avery Colby/Matt Whicker took the 2AAAA title, holding on for a 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 win over Michael Lyon/Sean Erickson in the final.

Lyon/Erickson and Stephen Townsley/Chase Havemann will all be heading to the state playoffs, with Townsley/Havemann earning a straight-set win over Eric Christian/Taylor Braselle of Taos, 6-2, 6-2.

Townsley had been playing doubles with Daniel Trugman, but Trugman injured his ankle at the Farmington Invitational a week ago and will miss the rest of the season.

Hilltopper head coach Giri Raichur said Chase Havemann, a freshman, has filled in well in Trugman’s absence.

Cottam is the lone non-Los Alamos representative from 2AAAA heading to the state individual tournament, defeating his teammate, Magnum Forbes, for third place in the boys singles draw.

In girls doubles, Jeena Kim/Grace Kim advanced to the final round to face a formidable squad in Taos’ Erica Dimond/Lauren Kenward.

The two teams played a match and a half Saturday. They started a match during the Los Alamos-Taos dual, but the match was called after Kim/Kim took the first set as the dual had been decided at that point.

In the doubles draw, Dimond/Kenward used a good mix of volleys and lobs to keep Kim/Kim off-balance and took the contest in two sets, 6-2, 6-4.

Nevertheless, Kim/Kim will advance to the girls AAAA title draw, as will Megan Townsley/Emma Myers, which took the third-place match over Jessica Christian/Alex Cancro, 6-2, 6-2.

Jalbert was the third Hilltopper to advance in girls singles, taking a default against Capital’s Erika Ortega in the third-place match.

Ortega was the only non-Hilltopper and non-Tiger in either the boys or girls draw to survive Friday’s first round.

Cottrell said afterward that seven girls advancing to the individual tournament equaled the most his program had ever sent in one season.