'Toppers pull off upset in 2-4A final

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — Following the three doubles contests Saturday and knowing it was unlikely to pull off upsets in the top two singles slots, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls tennis team had no margin of error in the District 2-4A championship dual.
And while things were tight in the remaining singles contests, the Hilltoppers came up big when they needed to.
Los Alamos, the No. 2 seed in the 2-4A tournament, pulled off the upset over the Santa Fe Demons. Los Alamos took the Nos. 3-6 singles contests to knock off the Demons 5-4 in the finale at Capital High School.
At those positions, Hannah Cunningham, Astrid Hengartner, Lauryn Anaya and Lauren Fugate swept their Santa Fe opponents.
The Nos. 3 and 6 singles, which were the big question marks for Los Alamos heading into the finals were close contests, however, with both going into third sets.
At No. 3, Cunningham had to come back from a set down to top Dakota Haraden, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Haraden, an aggressive player who goes to the net any opportunity she has, looked like she might cruise to that victory after the opening set.
Cunningham, however, was able to settle in and move the ball around in the second and third sets, taking advantage of Haraden’s hard charges.
“After I lost the first set, it was like a warm-up set, if that makes sense,” Cunningham said. “Just getting into singles play, because I hadn’t played singles so far in the district tournament…I had to get back into the singles swing.”
Prior to Saturday’s win, Los Alamos had dropped two close contests in a row to Santa Fe, which emerged as the toughest district opponent the Hilltoppers have faced since joining 2-4A in 2000.
The win was the Hilltoppers’ 15th district team title in a row.
There was little question in the mind of head coach Bruce Cottrell how the Demons became a serious threat this season.
“Brandee Fulgenzi,” said Cottrell, who has guided Los Alamos to each one of the 15 district wins. “When you put a player into the top of your lineup that’s a super player, it just makes you that much stronger.”
Fulgenzi, an eighth grader and the next heir-apparent of the powerful Fulgenzi tennis family, has been dominant all season in 4A. She won her No. 1 singles contest and picked up a doubles win with teammate Krystl Debruyn to help put Santa Fe up 4-1 early in the final and putting Los Alamos’ collective back against the wall.
At No. 6 singles, Fugate grabbed the first set over Debruyn, 6-4, but Debruyn battled back in the second set, taking that 7-5.
Debruyn, with a couple of big cross-court winners late in the second set, seemed to have the momentum heading into set three, but Fugate immediately broke Debruyn’s serve.
Fugate, keeping her returns mostly at Debruyn’s feet, didn’t allow her to hold serve once in that decisive set.
Hengartner, who along with Cunningham, qualified for the upcoming doubles championships, won 6-0, 6-1 over Tara Varnum at No. 4 singles and Anaya topped Megan Varnum 6-1, 6-0 in the No. 5 slot.
Anaya said she wasn’t surprised things went down to the wire Saturday.
“I knew we could do it,” Anaya said. “I just didn’t know if we could do it today,” she said. “We were able to just keep the matches going, not get frustrated. We just kept fighting.”
With the win, Los Alamos earned the No. 4 seed in the upcoming 4A championship team tournament.
Los Alamos is the defending state champion. It upset Farmington in the final round last season to earn its eighth team title.
In individual competition, Hilltopper No. 1 singles player Sidra Hsieh-Ratliff topped No. 2 Laura Whicker in the championship match.
Both players, along with third-place finisher Anaya, will advance to Wednesday’s first round of 4A competitition.