Based off the first half of Region 11 play, there’s no question there is more parity in the local high school girls tennis scene than there was a year ago.
Ridgeline is going to have to fight hard to capture its fourth straight region title, but so far so good for the Riverhawks. Ridgeline swept the season series from Green Canyon, dispatching of the Wolves, 4-1, for the second time this season — this time at home on a hot Thursday afternoon.
“It was a really big deal,” Ridgeline star senior Naya Tillitt said. “Green Canyon has a great team. They were a lot of close matches today. I know Meera (Gardner) pulled it out in two sets, but I know it was pretty close, and this match here at No. 1 dubs (doubles) was really good, so I think it just shows that we’re able to really stay mentally strong and win those closer battles.”
Tillitt is aiming to become the first ever Cache Valley prep athlete to win four consecutive state championships at No. 1 singles, and she finished strong in a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Alli Phillips on Thursday. Phillips, the region champ at second singles last year, tested Tillitt early on, but the Utah State commit ultimately took control with her heavy, deep groundstrokes and aggressive first serves.
“I’ve really been working on moving forward into my shots,” Tillitt said. “A lot of times I’m leaning back on my groundstrokes, so watching the U.S. Open right now, I’m watching those pros, and they’re really (driving) into their shots and not doing anything crazy. But they’re still keeping their balls deep ... and I’m trying to work on still moving into my shots and hitting shots on the rise, instead of constantly hitting shots off of my back foot.”
Likewise, it was a good day for Madi Brenchley, Ridgeline’s No. 2 singles player. Brenchley, the defending 4A champion at third singles, started the season at first doubles, but has settled in pretty nicely at the No. 2 singles spot. The junior rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Madi Gray.
The Riverhawks were able to secure the singles sweep, but it wasn’t easy. Meera Gardner grinded out a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Phoenix Davis at third singles. The match featured several lengthy rallies from the baseline, but Gardner was a little bit more consistent and used her quick feet to routinely extend rallies.
“Well with Meera, she’s an outstanding defensive player,” Ridgeline assistant coach Ron Bachman said. “We’re trying to get her to be a little bit more offensive minded, but then again she keeps winning as a defensive player. ... She does a good job.”
Bachman was pleased with his second doubles tandem of Halle Kendrick and Kaitlyn Horsburgh, who reigned supreme against Reagan Baxter and Gracie Beecher, 6-3, 6-2. Horsburgh and Kendrick outlasted Beecher and Baxter in three sets a couple of weeks ago.
“I don’t take any doubles match in region for granted,” Bachman said. “Every one of them we have to really work for, so when we do win them I’m quite pleased. I’ve been quite pleased with the way our second doubles team has been playing lately, so hopefully we can keep pressing on.”
The Wolves avoided the sweep with a gratifying three-set victory at No. 1 doubles. The duo of Grace Goble and Olivia Phillips held off Myriam Anderson and Lucy Lyons, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4.
Phillips and Goble were the aggressors in the early going of the third set as they claimed four consecutive games and jumped out to a 5-2 lead. To their credit, Lyons and Anderson battled back and saved an impressive five match points before Goble ripped a forehand return winner down the line to slam the door.
“That was a fun way to finish (the match), and they did a good job,” GC head coach John Mickelson said. “As much as it was physical and they were hitting the big shots at the end, that was more of a mental battle between those two teams because they’re so evenly matched. I mean, that’s a good team (we beat).”