Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Patriots Defeat Vikings to Claim Boys USTA National Spring Team Championships; Red Hawks and Firecrackers Meet Wednesday for Girls Title; McNally Qualifies at BNP Paribas Open

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile, AL--

Patriots, left to right: Jaxson Lamb, Georgi Mavrodiev, Alvaro Pedraza,
Coach Will Brown, Anders Gibbons, Ben Shelton, Marko Mesarovic
Patriots coach William Brown called him Mr. Clinch, with no mystery attached to that nickname, as 14-year-old Jaxson Lamb earned the deciding win for his team for the second match in a row, this time with the gold medal at the USTA National Spring Championships on the line against the Vikings.

On Monday night Lamb won the last match on in a 4-3 semifinal victory over the Rams. On Tuesday, as dusk began to fall on another chilly day at the Mobile Tennis Center, Lamb wasn't under quite as much pressure, with another match still going, but again it was the 14-year-old from Tennessee who picked up the point that put his team over the top at the 14s No. 2 position, with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over Santiago Muhala the fourth point in the Patriots 5-2 victory.

"There's just no quit in the kid," said Brown, who has coached a team in all six years it has been in existence. "There was an incredible amount of pressure last night and he came through, so I want to throw some credit his way."

Lamb is a veteran of the USTA Zonals, a team competition for younger sectional players, but this was his first opportunity to play in Mobile, and being thrown into the fire Monday in the deciding match was a memorable experience for him.

"It was really the team that pulled me through," Lamb said. "I felt like I was about to pass out at 5-all. If I didn't have the team there, who knows what would have happened."

Lamb admitted that dropping the second set in Tuesday's final was another test of his mental strength.

"I was concerned, but I had to go into the third set playing aggressive, playing on top of the baseline and see what would happen," Lamb said. "And I pulled it out."

The Patriots fell behind early, with the Vikings taking the doubles point. The Patriots took the 18s doubles, with Anders Gibbons and Georgi Mavrodiev beating Joshua Raab and Kieran Foster 8-4, but the Vikings took the 14s doubles, with Cooper Williams and Muhala beating Lamb and Marko Mesarovic 8-3. That left the 16s doubles to decide the point, with the Vikings Nicholas Heng and Alexander Chang beating Ben Shelton and Alvaro Pedraza 8-7(7) after losing a 5-0 and 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker and saving a match point at 6-7.

Brown has been happy with his team's play in doubles throughout the event, but admitted they were outplayed by the Vikings. Vikings coach Kevin Quay, whose team won all four doubles points in this event, was optimistic that would help deliver the victory.

"I felt very confidence in my guys and felt everything was even," Quay said. "I felt for sure we could get three or four of those points. But I think they did a really good job under pressure, winning the big points."

Brown said Gibbons quick 6-2, 6-3 win over Raab at No. 1 18s was the boost his team needed.

"I told him today, you're my number one player, you're my leader, and I need you today," Brown said. "He came out super focused, super sharp and he controlled it throughout. That was huge. I told him I needed him to set the tone for the match, and that is what the young man did."

The Patriots took a 2-1 lead when Shelton defeated Heng at No. 1 16s 7-6(4), 6-2, but just a minute later, the Vikings pulled even, with Williams beating Mesarovic 7-5, 7-6(3) at No. 1 14s. After Williams made it 2-2, Pedraza served for the match against Chang at No. 2 16s and he closed out 7-5, 6-4 victory, while Lamb had taken a 4-1 lead in the third set.  The Patriots' Mavrodiev had fought back to force a third set against Foster at No. 2 18s, and was leading 3-0 when Lamb broke Muhala for the 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory and the title. Mavrodiev went on to defeat Foster 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 for the last Patriots point.

Brown, who now runs his own academy in St. Louis, is convinced this event is a significant building block in a junior's development.

"This is my favorite week professionally," said Brown, who coached the Angels, a girls team, to the title in 2015. "This is the best thing I do all year long. I love it...they throw us in the fire, and every year I see this happen with these kids. They start making connections, they start jelling, and you see a lot of personal growth, and a lot of growth as tennis players. And I'll go so far as to say this. Every year I hear from kids after, how they go on to have more success after being a part of this event. That tells me that this is such a good event for junior development; they learn something."

Lamb agreed that reaching outside the typical sectional interaction is a highlight of the week.

"I love team events, and bonding with people you've never met before, it's a great experience," Lamb said. "Team events are amazing experiences for everyone. I've never gone home with a gold medal before. It feels awesome."

In the boys third place match, the Rams defeated the Seahawks 5-2.

Niraj Komatineni of the Raiders was the recipient of the boys sportsmanship award.

The girls semifinals were played Tuesday morning, with the Red Hawks beating the Tornados 4-3 and the Firecrackers beating the Pirates 5-2.

The Firecrackers took the doubles point, with Sydni Ratliff and Violeta Martinez winning the 16s over Carrie Beckman and Zoe Hammond 8-4 and Maeve Thornton and Ibifuro Clement winning the 14s over Kinaa Graham and Tatum Evans 8-6.  The Pirates won at 18s doubles, with Anna Campana and Alexis Blokhina beating Gianna Pielet and Kayla Wilkins 8-7(3).

The Pirates' Zoe Hammond was unable to compete in the No. 2 16 singles after her wrist injury flared up, with local junior Kida Ferrari stepping in as an alternate. The Pirates pulled even with Graham's 7-5, 6-1 win over Maeve Thornton at No. 1 14s, but they could not get any closer. Ratliff defeated Beckman at No. 1 16s 7-5, 6-3 to make it 2-1, Pielet beat Campana 6-2, 6-4 to give the Firecrackers a 3-1 lead and Martinez clinched the finals berth with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ferrari at No. 2 16s.

"It was great to get the doubles point; in a match like this, the doubles point makes all the difference," said Firecrackers coach David Thornton, whose daughter Maeve plays No. 1 14s on the team. "And in singles, both girls in the 16s are doing a great job so far, I don't think they've lost a match since they've got here."

Thornton, who coaches at the Knoxville Racquet Club, finished third in the event last year, his first as a coach. "It's exciting. It's not every day you play for a national championship. It's fun playing in a team environment and I think the whole team is excited and ready to roll."
The Redhawks win over the Tornados was a tense one, with Filippa Bruu-Syversen beating Sankavi Gownder 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 2 16s in the last match on.

The Red Hawks claimed the doubles point, with wins on the 14s and 16s courts. The Tornados took 18s doubles, with Fiona Crawley and Katya Hersh beating Casie Wooten and Sophia Sassoli 8-0, but DJ Bennett and Bruu-Syversen beating Makenna Thiel at Gownder 8-3 to leave the 14s as the deciding match. Red Hawks Ylan Duong and Jayna Clemens beat Catherine Walker and Morgan Pyrz 8-4 to take the 1-0 lead heading into singles.

The Tornados' Crawley beat Wooten 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 18s to tie the match at 1, but the Red Hawks regained the lead with Bennett's 6-3, 6-3 win over Thiel at No. 1 16s. They extended that lead to 3-1 with Clemens beating Pyrz 7-5, 6-2 at No. 2 14s, but the Tornados fought back, with Hersh beating Sassoli at No. 2 18s 7-5, 6-3 and Walker beating Duong at No. 1 14s 6-1, 0-6, 6-3.

That's when Bruu-Syversend and Gownder took center stage, with the two left-handers midway through the third set on serve when Walker tied it up. Very little separated the two in the final few games, but serving to stay in the match at 4-5 in the third, Gownder played two nervous points at 30-all and that was enough to propel Bruu-Syversend and the Red Hawks into the final.

Red Hawks coach Nelo Phiri didn't want to overwhelm her player in such a high-stress position.

"In that situation, you want to keep it simple, especially when you see them fighting," said Phiri, who was a graduate assistant at St. Johns University prior to her current involvement with Fearless Growth. "It's back to basics, the combos they already work on. I tell them to control their breathing, because a lot is at stake. You're under pressure, so I give them a few ways to manage the pressure. At those times, it's mental. They all have skill, this tournament is full of skill, but it's who's going to handle that pressure best that matters."

The girls final is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Mobile Tennis Center, along with the third place match between the Pirates and the Tornados and the six other fourth round matches.

For complete team results, or for individual player results, see the TennisLink site.

Seventeen-year-old wild card Caty McNally qualified for the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, coming back to beat former WTA Top 10 player Timea Bacsinszky[19] of Switzerland 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 this evening. McNally beat No. 8 seed Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic from a set down on Monday. Christina McHale is the only other US woman to qualify for the main draw.

Ohio State junior JJ Wolf won his first round match in the men's qualifying today, with the wild card defeating No. 14 seed Marco Trungelliti of Argentina 6-4, 6-1.  Wolf will play No. 3 seed Ugo Humbert of France next. Humbert, like Wolf, is 20 years old.