The Catalina Foothills boys tennis team won their third straight team title, beating Pusch Ridge 5-0 in the state title match.
The Falcons were not challenged on their way to the title, winning all four matches without dropping a match.
Maybe the biggest hurdles to overcome came from within, as the Falcons had to adjust to a new coach. Jeffrey Bloomberg was hired this season and knew he was inheriting a team that had not only had recent success, but were a state powerhouse. This year’s title marks the school’s 12.
Bloomberg was aware that the Falcons were a top notch program and after he applied for the position he realized just how successful the program had been.
“There was a bit of pressure,” Bloomberg said. “I did my research and knew the history going into it. I just wanted to keep the ball rolling, so to speak.”
It did not take long to realize that the success of the program was due in large part to the amount of talent on the team.
“After a few practices it was clear we had the talent to win,” said Bloomberg. “It was just a matter of not falling into pitfalls, or not becoming complacent.”
He noted that no one all year talked about the possible three-peat until the day of the final match and he knew the team was focused on the title.
With players who have played for upwards of a decade, as well as playing year round, Bloomberg found he was able to focus more on strategy and situations in practice than the fundamentals and that too helped the Falcons this season.
Although they swept through the playoffs, Bloomberg stressed it was not an easy path.
“It was a little more difficult than the scores indicated,” said Bloomberg. “Pusch Ridge was a really good team and we had three matches that went to tiebreakers.”
Although Foothills won those three matches, they also saw George Jiang, the state’s No. 4 player hurt himself in warm-ups. Jiang played through an injured pectoral muscle and would likely not have been able to go, had the team needed to play doubles matches.
As it stood, the Falcons did not have to play any doubles matches on their way to the title. They beat Willow Canyon and Nogales at home in the first two rounds of the tournament and then cruised past No. 4 Skyline 5-0 before facing the Lions.
The Falcons may have gained extra motivation to win the team title as their doubles team of Michael and Mason Lee came up a match short. The duo fell 7-6, 7-4 to Derek James and Scott Rowe in the Division II finals. The two had hoped to avenge an earlier season loss, their only one, to the pair in a match played at Thunderbird where traffic issues forced the Falcons to forgo their normal pre-match warm-up.
“The championship loss left a bitter taste in their mouth and gave then extra motivation to win the team title,” said Bloomberg.
The second seeded Lees cruised early on, but found things a bit tougher in the second weekend. They needed three sets to beat Henry Wang and Brendan Rumel of Rincon, then edged Preston Grammond and Jarod Bristol of Pusch Ridge 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals.
Jiang finished third in the state in singles competition. He fell to eventual state champion Yash Parikh in the semi-finals and was able to take third when Shawn Parks of Pusch Ridge had to pull out due to injury. He cruised through his first three matches, losing a single game, then won his quarterfinals match 6-1, 6-1 over Alexis Ton of Nogales.
The Falcon girls are not used to coming up short, but a valiant comeback came up one match short and Catalina Foothills fell 5-4 in the Division II state championship game to No. 2 Notre Dame Prep.
“Hard not to define a season by one particular match, but the loss in the championships this year still stings,” said Foothills Head Coach Kristie Stevens. “It was a heartbreaking loss but not without a heroic fight.”
The Falcons found themselves down 4-2 after the singles matches, something the Falcons were unaccustomed to. Before the championship match the Falcons had lost just three individual match-ups through the playoffs.
“Our team was undefeated in the regular season, and undefeated up until the championship,” said Stevens. “All of our wins were 9-0 or 8-1.”
Although their backs were up against the wall the Falcons fought back, winning two of the doubles matches. The final doubles match, to decide the title, came down to a tiebreaker and Notre Dame Prep’s Alexandra Lehman and senior Alyssa Heid escaped with a 9-8 win.
Five hours after it began Notre Dame had their first ever win over the state powerhouse Falcons.
“This team did everything a coach could ask for,” said Stevens. “Their heart, passion and determination in this match was indisputable.”
The Falcon girls still won some state championship hardware as Abby Watson and Halle Zadro took home the Division II Girls Doubles State Championship. For Watson it is her second state doubles title. She teamed with Kirtana Bhat to win the 2015 title.
“Both of them are very smart players and really worked well together,” said Stevens. “They are aggressive but patient, at all the right times. Halle and Abby played together for half the regular season matches, so they finished out the season undefeated as a doubles team.”
Watson did not lose a match, singles or doubles, all season.
Ironically enough, it was the team of Lehman and Heid that Watson and Zadro beat for the doubles title. They beat the top ranked Notre Dame duo 6-2, 7-5.
Watson and Zadro did not drop a set on their way to the title. They were challenged early on in their first round match against Sabino but after winning the first set 6-3, they won the next set 6-0.
They closed out the first weekend of the tournament with a pair of 6-1, 6-1 wins over teams from Marcos de Niza and Gila Ridge.
The second weekend saw the 6-1, 6-1 theme continue as they beat squads from Rincon/University and Buckeye Union by identical scores.
In singles play Morgan Chakraborty advanced to the state semifinals before falling to Notre Dame’s Alexa Cooke 6-4, 6-0. Cooke came into the tournament as the No. 1 ranked player in the state, while Chakraborty was No. 4.
Chakraborty cruised through the early rounds. After getting a default win in the first round she won her next two matches by identical 6-1, 6-0 scores. He went on to beat No. 5 Francesca de Marneffe of Phoenix Country Day 6-4, 6-2 to set up the meeting with Cooke.