MURFREESBORO — The big three delivered the goods for Unicoi County.
Pascal Koch, Reed Jackson and Matt Holka won singles matches as the No. 1 through 3 seeds, while Koch and Jackson teamed to win at No. 1 doubles to give the Blue Devils a 4-2 victory over Collegedale Academy in Wednesday’s TSSAA BlueCross Spring Fling Class A-AA boys’ team tennis state championship at Old Fort Park.
“The big three definitely came through for today’s match,” Unicoi County head coach Michael Smith said. “We were behind in the second doubles match and it wasn’t looking good. I’m glad we got the three singles where all we needed was the one doubles (point).”
The Blue Devils ended with an 11-0 record, while the Eagles finished 17-4.
Along with teammates Conly Shults and Nic Chambers, the big three added to Unicoi County’s strong tradition in spring sports, particularly the stick-and-ball sports. It was the school’s seventh state championship, following four in baseball and two in softball.
“It’s definitely an honor to win the state in tennis,” Smith said. “We’ve got a great group of kids. The matches yesterday (a semifinal win over CPA) and today, we had to fight to win both of them. I’m very proud of them, and it’s great to win the state.”
Earlier in Class AAA girls action, Brentwood Ravenwood rolled to its third straight state title with a 4-0 victory over Dobyns-Bennett.
After losing his No. 1 singles match against CPA in the state semfinals, Koch left no doubt against the Eagles’ Mike Sintak. He was the first one to leave the court after a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
Dropping matches at No. 4 and No. 5 singles, Jackson evened the score with 6-4, 6-1 win over Collegedale’s Connor O’Brien. Minutes later came the decisive moment.
Holka easily won his first set 6-1 over Boston Landis, but trailed 5-3 in the second set. Playing close to the net, Holka won the next four games for a 7-5 victory. It was needed as Holka had battled knee and shoulder problems over the past several weeks, and didn’t want to go to a third set.
“First set was really easy,” Holka said. “So I kind of stopped play to save my knee and my shoulder, and suddenly it was 5-3. It was hard. My shoulder hurt, my knee hurt, but I used my experience and made it through it because a third set was going to be hard for me with my injuries.”
Once in doubles, it played right into Unicoi’s strategy.
Koch and Jackson romped to an 8-1 decision over Sintak and O’Brien to clinch the title. It ended before the No. 2 doubles match pitting Holka and Shults against the Eagles’ Landis and Michael Chung ended.
The moment wasn’t lost on Jackson, who talked the Blue Devils making the most of their first-ever state tournament appearance.
“No team had ever made it to the state for Unicoi,” Jackson said. “I play tennis all the time, but this is so big. To win this for our school, that was the biggest thing for us. It was a great win for our team.”
It was also the first state championship appearance for the Eagles, who were gracious in defeat.
“It’s been a real pleasure,” Collegedale head coach Steve Kulik said. “It was difficult today, a lot of competitive matches if we could have picked up just a couple of points or a couple of serves. But, it’s been a great ride.”
The Lady Raptors capped off their undefeated season with the only suspense being whether No. 1 singles or No. 5 singles would end the overall match.
It ended up being No. 1 singles as Ravenwood senior Lauren Caballero defeated Dobyns-Bennett freshman Josie Rogers 6-4, 6-1 to clinch the title.
Winning their third straight state championship, the Raptors (17-0) were subdued in their celebration.
“We’ve come to expect it,” said Caballero, who is scheduled to play at Samford University in the fall.
The Lady Indians, who finished 18-3, saw Rogers take a 3-2 lead in the first set. Otherwise, Ravenwood was as dominant as the last couple of years, losing no more than two games in No. 2, 3, and 4 singles.
Kelly Rains of Ravenwood held a 5-1 lead in the second set of her match at No. 5 against Katie Heidt when the match was called.
“They were pretty solid 1 through 5,” said Dobyns-Bennett head coach Ron Frankowski, whose own program won back-to-back state titles in 2004-05. “They were two-time defending champions with everybody back, so we knew it would be a challenge for us. But our girls fought, competed and played hard.”
It was the first three-year championship run on the girls’ side since Chattanooga Baylor in 2002-04, and the first overall since the Science Hill boys in 2007-09.
“Our players put in the work, on the court in practice, and the work on their own,” Ravenwood head coach Matt Lacheta said. “The dedication they put in, not only in tennis, but in school, it’s so good to see across the board.”
As late as two months ago, Dobyns-Bennett wasn’t even predicted to be a factor in the postseason.
“I would have been happy just to know we were going to win the conference, let alone play for the state championship,” Frankowski said. “It’s only natural the girls are a little disappointed, but they’ve had a great year. Hopefully, we can come back next year.”