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GW boys shoot for repeat tennis title

By Doug Smock, Staff writer

The races to the team titles couldn’t be more different than they are this weekend at the state tennis tournament.

In Class AAA, both boys and girls, the defending champions could have their titles in hand by the end of Friday’s semifinals.

In Class AA-A, the Charleston Catholic tennis dynasties are in jeopardy.

And players in both classes are likely in for a long day today, with matches expected to be contested indoors because of rain. That may not be as sure a bet as Huntington’s Cassie Mercer taking the Class AAA girls No. 1 singles title, but it could be close.

Matches begin at 8 a.m. today, with the regular venues being the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility (AAA) and the Schoenbaum Courts in Kanawha City (AA-A). In case of rain, the AAA players move to the Charleston Family YMCA, with the Tennis Indoor Center is expected to host the AA-A competition.

All matches today will be pro-set scoring (first to eight games), with the singles playing first and quarterfinal rounds. The No. 1 doubles teams will play their first rounds.

George Washington’s boys are expected to swat to their second title in a row, with all the familiar faces from last year. In fact, the Patriots will have the exact lineup as they did a year ago, save for the insertion of Brent Horswell alongside Ryan Mullins in No. 3 doubles.

The Patriots already have a tournament victory under their belts, taking the “B” Division championship at the DecoTurf High School Championships at Louisville, Ky.

The tournament’s team matches mirrored the college format, with six singles — deeper than the four used in West Virginia — and three doubles. GW beat Ensworth from Nashville, Trinity from Louisville and Edmond (Okla.) Memorial. The team scores were 7-2, 7-2 and 8-1, respectively.

Huntington was in the eight-team draw as well, finishing sixth.

“They really saw what college tennis is all about. It really motivated them,” said GW coach Chris Luckett. “From then to how it’s been day-to-day, business as usual in our matches. Now, we can get remotivated again, knowing there’s a title ahead of us.”

GW won regional titles in all seven positions. The lineup: Ryan Massinople at No. 1, Zack Koenig at No. 2, Nick Koenig at No. 3, Thomas McIntosh at No. 4, Massinople at Zach Koenig at No. 1 doubles, Nick Koenig and McIntosh at No. 2 and Mullins at Horswell at No. 3.

Parkersburg also has qualified at all seven spots, though GW owns a 5-2 victory over the Big Reds. Huntington, led by two-time defending champion Hunter Tubert at No. 1, also appears in seven spots.

One other individual note: Nitro’s Shane Dempsey is in the No. 1 draw and is expected to give Martinsburg’s Carter Davis a challenge.

On the girls’ side, Huntington’s Mercer is the three-time No. 1 singles state champ who has signed to play for Virginia. The Babolat Recruiting Lists place here third in the Mid-Atlantic Region and 28th nationally.

Kate Huck is back at No. 2 for Huntington, joining Mercer on the top doubles again. Those two could be enough to deliver a team title by themselves, but the Highlanders have a solid freshman in Ava Ratcliff at No. 3.

If the real battle is for team runner-up, GW and Parkersburg are in as good of shape as any. The Big Reds may have tougher luck in the draw — for instance, No. 1 Cassandra Powell faces a quarterfinal match with Mercer and most others have a Huntington player lurking in the quarters.

Kirsten White is a key to GW’s runner-up hopes, playing on the opposite side of the No. 1 bracket from Mercer. Her road to the final could include two considerable obstacles, Hurricane’s Kayla McKnight and Morgantown’s Abby Rosiello.

Rosiello has a first-round match against Riverside’s Erin Hendricks.

GW was down considerably in 2013. “These girls have worked hard all year. Knowing they have an opportunity to be a state runner-up, it would be an accomplishment,” Luckett said.

Charleston Catholic’s boys are riding an eight-year streak in Class AA-A, and have been deep enough to field a runner-up squad in addition in some years. That’s not the case this time around, as the Irish lost to Williamstown in the regional.

The Irish have qualified in all seven position, but coach David Sadd calls that “the grand illusion.” Noah Cable played No. 3 doubles; today, he begins his quest in No. 1 singles, and joins Joe Kelly at No. 1 doubles.

For the most part, Catholic and Williamstown are on opposite sides of the bracket, but they’re not the only teams around. Wheeling Central and Bluefield are in most but not all brackets, for example.

The returning No. 1 singles champ returns, Max Meade of St. Joseph.

“If No. 9 is going to become a reality, we’re going to have to chip away as a team,” Sadd said. “No one guy is or can carry the load. We’re not going to dominate like we did in the past.”

On the other hand, Catholic’s girls — all two of them — are going to have to carry a large load. It’s not a surprise that the Irish are down in numbers, but it is in that Christina Centofanti and Sarah Fox, the top two singles and top doubles team, are the only ones in the tournament.

Handicapping the team field is a hazardous exercise. One thing is certain: Only Bluefield has regional champions in all seven positions.

That doesn’t always translate to success, but consider this: There are 13 different schools with regional winners, which could divide points in the Beavers’ favor.

Or could make this classification difficult to compute. Or both.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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