May 4, 2005 - It began Friday, April 29, on a wind-swept afternoon at the Tucson Racquet Club, and ended 16 hours later with six champions, when Tucson played host to this year's Class 4A boys and girls tennis state tournament.
The mini-Wimbledon feel of the two-day tourney, replete with its barbecues, hoards of fans and T-shirt vendors, gave way to the best tennis the state has to offer. After all, the glory is the reason why most compete in the singles and doubles formats of the tournament.
"This is our whole season compacted into three days," said Catalina Foothills High School head coach Robb Salant.
All told, Foothills boys and girls were represented in all but one finals match, crowning two state champs and five state runners-up.
After a lengthy afternoon of tennis on Friday that halved the field, 24 players returned the following day, each with one goal in common, win one of the four state titles on the line. Saturday did not disappoint.
With play beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, following each match as it occurred simultaneously could have proved daunting for the fan looking to catch a glimpse of each player in action. For those that did make it to each court on Saturday, this is what they might have seen.
Arguably the match-up of the year begins with the rest of the day's semifinals matches as Class 4A defending champ Torrie Browning of Ironwood Ridge High School squares off against Foothills' BreAnn Cheung. The battle is the rubber match between the two seniors who split two matches during the year. A strong backcourt and groundstroke game is about the only thing the free-spirited Cheung, No. 2, and the stoically intense Browning, No. 11, have in common.
Browning is the lone representative from IRHS after doubles partners Zach Boyd and Jacob Goellner were eliminated in the quarterfinals on Friday by No. 21 seeded Alec Gee and Cameron Sheldon of Sabino High School.
"We didn't play our best," said IRHS head coach Don Dickinson. "Sabino got the scrap points. We made several uncharacteristic mistakes."
The tournament's marathon man, Tom Wolff, enters the third set of his semifinal match-up against Kyle Anderson of Rincon. A small crowd on Friday night remained as Wolff, a freshman for Foothills, was the last match to be decided - 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 over Matt Miller of Thunderbird High School. Saturday morning, Wolff battles more than just his opponent. Cramping has already begun to slow the boys No. 2 ranked player who has somehow managed to keep pace with Anderson despite dropping the first set - 2-6, 6-3.
All but one of the semifinal matches are complete, including the girls singles match-up between Browning and Cheung. Browning, despite being ranked No. 11 in the state tourney, has countered the defensive lobs of Cheung to advance to the finals. Winning the first game of each set isn't enough for Cheung to fend off Browning, who wins a match highlighted by extended volleys, 6-3, 6-4.
Tara Raghavan and Anya Dalkin of Foothills kick off the state title match in girls doubles against Victoria Bravo and Alex Miller of Rincon High School. Despite being ranked No. 1, Raghavan and Dalkin have their work cut out for them against the upstart and plucky duo of No. 2 Bravo and Miller.
Wolff has finally knocked off fan favorite Anderson, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, to advance to the state finals against top-seeded Chris Tenev of Chaparral High School. Walking off the court, the freshman is in good spirits but looks exhausted. He'll have 30 minutes to rest before the state title match.
Browning is ready to begin defending her Class
4A State Singles crown, which she won last year over Jennifer Kaufman of Catalina Foothills. This year's opponent is Courtney Byron of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Scottsdale. Byron is ranked No. 1 in the state tourney and No. 1 in the USTA Southwest Section in the Girls 14 Singles, despite being only a freshman.
Both singles championship matches this year will feature the proverbial "changing of the guard," as both boys and girls finals match-ups pit a senior against a freshman.
The Foothills doubles team of Tara Raghavan and Anya Dalkin enters the third and final set of its championship match after splitting the first two 4-6, 6-1. Meanwhile, on a nearby court, Browning is beginning to show some fatigue. After breezing through her first set 6-2 and going up 2-0 in the second against Byron, the IRHS senior will go on to lose six of the next seven games, dropping the set 3-6.
The boys doubles team of Catalina Foothills claims the school's first and only state title of the weekend. But the championship is somewhat anti-climatic, as Joseph Goldstein and Tyler Campbell knock off teammates Taylor Allin and Biafra Ahanonou in straight sets 6-4, 6-3. Goldstein and Campbell look as if they haven't broken a sweat throughout the entire tournament, as Allin and Ahanonou win more games against the champs than all of their opponents combined on the weekend.
"It just adds to it," said Goldstein of beating his teammates. The four are no strangers to each other's game. The quartet faced off against one another in the doubles finals of the Sonoran Region playoffs, where once again Goldstein and Campbell beat Allin and Ahanonou.
A weekend's worth of tennis reaches its pinnacle just about the same time that Pinnacle High School's boys doubles team is taking the court for its third place consolation match against Greenway High School.
After dropping the first set 6-3 and going down 2-1 in the second to Chris Tenet, Wolff decided his body couldn't take any more. The freshman withdrew from the match, handing over the 4A boys state singles title to the Northern Arizona University bound Tenet.
"I'm cramping up and I feel like I'm about to puke," said Wolff in the minutes after walking off the court in the middle of the state final, his face red, and his nose blistering from hours toiling in the sun. "Coach (Robb Salant) told me if I couldn't do it I should retire. We have the team playoffs on Monday."
The dust has barely settled from Wolff's match, when Browning puts the final touches on her second straight Class 4A State Singles Championship with a 6-0 dismantling of Notre Dame's Byron in a quick third set.
"Both of them were tough," said Browning who added that Cheung gave her a better fight in the semifinals. "I think being a senior there's more pressure on you to win."
Cheung ended the tourney third in the state after dropping Beatriz Bravo of Nogales, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the consolation match.
Browning will face Cheung once more before leaving her high school career to the record books. The two will square off once again in the semifinals of the Class 4A state team tournament on May 2. Both will move on to college next year, Browning to Wichita State University and Cheung to the University of Connecticut, where it is unlikely they will face each other.