Boys tennis: LA advances to state team final

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — Heading into the Class AAAA state final, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys tennis team knew it would take something in the neighborhood of a miracle to win.

That something would never materialize.

The Hilltoppers, who dominated their opponents in the quarterfinal and semifinal round of the boys AAAA state team draw, ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the Albuquerque Academy Chargers.

The Chargers, who have been far and away the most dominant team in AAAA and very possibly the state, made light work of the Hilltoppers 9-0 in the team tournament Saturday at the Jerry Cline Tennis Center.

It was a disappointing but not unexpected finish for the Hilltoppers in 2008. The Hilltoppers went into this weekend’s tournament as the second seed in the boys draw, and lived up to that ranking by polishing off the Silver Colts 9-0, then dominating a solid Farmington Scorpions’ squad 7-2 before falling in the final.

It was the second straight runner-up finish for Los Alamos, which hadn’t lost to another AAAA school in 2008 until the final.

“Coming in second two years in a row is not too shabby,” Los Alamos head coach Giri Raichur said. “We’re on the right track. The tennis program is on the right track, even though we’ll lose four of our top seven to graduation, I expect the team to do pretty well next year.”

Los Alamos started off Friday two players down due to injury. Both No. 3 single Avery Colby and half of the No. 3 doubles team Daniel Trugman were out with ankle sprains, but Los Alamos hardly missed a beat, thumping the Silver Colts.

Going into the tournament, Raichur expressed some concern about the tournament’s format, particularly the fact that in many of the duals the doubles matches preceded the singles matches, as they did against Silver.

However, the Hilltopper doubles teams trounced the Colts, not dropping a set in any of those matches.

The doubles squads were solid against Farmington as well. No. 1 doubles squad Patrick Raichur/Ben Havemann and No. 3 doubles team Stephen Townsley/Chase Havemann both won in straight sets over the Scorpions.

With the pressure firmly on Silver following the doubles matches, Los Alamos put on a display in the singles matches, again not dropping a single set.

Jason Grider, who was penciled in as the No. 7 prior to Colby’s off-court injury, was moved up to No. 6 and faced off against Andres Quintero.

Quintero took the first two games of set one and led 1-3 at one point before Grider found his groove. Grider hit all four of his first serves to hold and cut Quintero’s lead to one, then crushed a cross-court forehand to break Quintero and knot the set at 3 apiece.

Grider would reel off five straight games to finish out the set — scoring seven forehand winners — and cruise to a 6-1 win in the second set.

Matt Whicker contained big-serving Ben Lande at No. 2 singles to win, while Raichur outdueled Jake Shelley to take the No. 1 singles match in straight sets.

In the semifinals, both Michael Lyon and Sean Erickson, playing at No. 4 and No. 5 singles, were straight-set winners.

Lyon/Erickson dropped its match at No. 2 doubles to Zach Pavlik/Adam Ashworth, but Lyon knocked off Laravee, giving up just two games in two sets, while Erickson was a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Kyle Hunt.

Lyon/Erickson hadn’t played doubles together prior to two weeks earlier when Colby’s and Trugman’s injury made them join forces.

“For us to come back from the doubles loss, it wasn’t too hard,” Erickson said. “I’m happy with my performance in singles. Doubles, I can work on.”

Patrick Raichur said after the win over Farmington the Hilltoppers knew the Scorpions weren’t a team to trifle with.

“They’re pretty deep like us,” he said. “They're especially good in doubles and they have good coaching.”

Raichur met perhaps the best player in the state, regardless of class, in his No. 1 singles match against Academy.

The Chargers’ No. 1 single, Andy Cooper, had surrendered just two games in his previous two matches of the tournament.

Academy rolled over both Artesia — which had to win a play-in dual for the right to meet the Chargers — and St. Pius X. Academy blanked both squads to get to the final.

Raichur and Cooper slugged it out at the top flight singles and Raichur held his own most of the way.

Cooper would eventually prove too tough for Los Alamos’ sophomore, but Raichur had far and away the best showing of Cooper’s three opponents, stretching him to 7-5 in the second set.

Academy has been the most dominant team in state tennis since records have been kept for prep play.

The season isn’t over for all the Hilltoppers, however. Raichur, Ben Havemann and the doubles teams of Lyon/Erickson, Townsley/Chase Havemann and, if it can go, Colby/Whicker, will appear in the individual AAAA championships.

“Going into individuals makes my plan much simpler,” coach Raichur said. “We’re just focused on singles and doubles and just working on those skills.”