The 5A-II state doubles championship belongs to the Ironwood Ridge girls, thanks to freshmen Sara Brown and Marissa Baca.
The doubles pair defeated a pair of seniors, top-ranked Carrie Shuler and Alex Jennsen of Goodyear Millennium, at the Paseo Racquet Center, 6-2, 7-5 on May 1.
While Brown and Baca, seeded #2 and #3 in the Nighthawks rotation, were certainly underdogs going in, their state title could hardly be considered a major upset.
"It wasn't a surprise," Brown said. "I was really happy."
The Nighthawks pair had a terrific regular season, finishing 10-2 in conference. The only losses came to unbeaten Salpointe Catholic, the conference champion. In the doubles championship bracket, Brown and Baca were seeded #2 among all doubles pairs.
"I'm proud and excited for Sara and Marissa," said #1 seed Shannon Contreras. "We all expected them to make it to the finals."
Incidentally, the Nighthawks #4 seed Emma Bose, was also a freshman. Coach Bill Little could've been excused for feeling trepidation going into the season with such an inexperience nucleus, but he didn't.
"I knew the freshmen were all strong," Little said. "On most teams, Emma would be a #2 player."
As for the finals match, Little was an avid spectator.
"It was a fantastic match to watch. They took the foot off the pedal after trailing 5-4 in the second set." They went on to win that set 7-5, sweeping in two sets.
Brown has high standards for her tennis.
"My goal was to be unbeaten," Brown said. "Our goal (at state) was to win it. But it was very surprising. Winning the state title was big."
Brown did not go unbeaten, because of the Amos sisters (Courtney and Lauren) from unbeaten Salpointe, who also went on to capture the 5A-I state doubles title.
"I lost to Lauren Amos during the season," Brown said. "We go back and forth in USTA tournaments. It's like when Marissa (Baca) and I play each other." During the season, Brown and Baca split with the Amos sisters in two matches.
Brown was a gymnast for nine years, but likes the team aspect of tennis, and is strictly a netter now.
"You get to know more people better," Brown said. "After the match, you talk and get to know them better."
Baca is the Nighthawks' #3 seed. Brown and Baca are also serious students. Brown got all As last semester, and hopes for a repeat this semester. Baca hopes her grades can net her an academic scholarship, as her tennis might yield an athletic scholarship.
The leader of this team was senior Shannon Contreras, the team's #1 seed and only senior. Contreras ranked #14 in the 18-year olds, according to coach Little.
"I felt we had a pretty strong team," Contreras said. "This is the most united team I've been on."
Contreras plans to attend Dominican University of California, near San Francisco. She plans to play Division II tennis and study international relations in business.
"Shannon was a really good leader," said Baca. "She held the team together really well."
"Shannon is one of the nicest people I've met," said Brown. "She showed me how to respect your opponent."
According to Little, the Ironwood Ridge parents deserve some credit as well.
"Parents have been key to the season. Team tennis is very supportive."
This is where it ends for the senior Contreras.
"I'll definitely miss it," Contreras said. "They'll do really well in the next couple of years, but I'll miss the team."
"I thought we had a good chance to win it all," Baca said. "Being #2 (as a team) gave us a lot of confidence. Beating the Amos sisters once (in two tries) during the season gave us confidence."
Baca wasn't overconfident during the finals match.
"The first game, Shuler aced us twice. We thought this'll be a tough match. But then, we had more rallies and were more comfortable."
Baca has been playing competitively for more than five years, and plays tennis year around. She discussed her goals for next year.
"I would like to win the state title again. To defend our title. Next year, we'll be the favorites."
Baca expressed why she likes tennis.
"I like that tennis is individual, and I like the competitiveness," Baca said. "You also get to meet a lot of new friends."