Published: 12:01 am, Sun. May. 8th, 2016Updated: 1:08 am
The Artesia High School tennis teams headed to the Class 5A State Tournaments Wednesday in Albuquerque riding one of their most successful seasons in recent memory.
Both the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs had earned berths to the state team tourney by way of runner-up finishes in District 4-AAAAA. They added to that an eight-person contingent for the individual tournament that included all six of the program’s seniors.
Parity in the state tennis tournaments, particularly in Class 5A, is hard to come by. Northern squads, primarily such as Albuquerque Academy and Los Alamos, dominate, boosted above nearly all other competitors by the fact their athletes compete year-round.
As it happened, the ‘Dogs and Lady ‘Dogs ran up against Chargers and Hilltoppers in both tourney brackets. And although the Artesia netters battled, there was no taking down members of the eventual state champion and runner-up teams.
“Once you get to state, it’s quality competition regardless of who you’re playing,” head coach Tim Trentham said Saturday. “You’re dealing with seeded players who are usually year-round players, and you can tell. They have just a little better shot selection and are a little more diverse in the ways they can play.
“It’s not like our kids can’t compete with that. It’s just that when you add on the experience of being in matches like that all season long, like Academy and Los Alamos are, and it makes a difference. But I thought we competed well overall. We fell short of winning some of those matches by really just a hair.”
In the individual tournament, the Bulldogs’ sixth-seeded doubles duo of Peyton Prothro and Jake Trejo logged a solid win in the opening round over familiar foes Luis Aceves and Reid Figueroa of Lovington, 6-2, 6-4. But the pair ran into third-ranked George Margecicius and Andrew Tang of Los Alamos in the quarterfinals, coming up short 0-6, 3-6.
The marathon week began with girls’ doubles competition Wednesday afternoon. Sixth-seeded Marissa Lopez and Kabryn Conner found themselves paired off with Academy’s Mary Pat Abruzzo and Mai Ly Torres-Baker in the first round and fell 1-6, 2-6. Melissa Richards and Baylee McKinney drew fifth-seeded Lauryn Anaya and Katya Skurikhin of Los Alamos, falling 0-6, 1-6.
In boys’ singles, seventh-seeded Jamey Kennemur square off against Junseo Kim of Los Alamos, losing 3-6, 2-6, and Josiah Kraft came up short, 2-6, 0-6, against sixth-seeded Andres Ko of Santa Teresa.
“Jamey was pretty close in his match for a while, his guy just managed to pull ahead,” said Trentham. “Josiah was having to match his opponent power for power and couldn’t quite keep up.
“Marissa and Kabryn came up against a style of play they weren’t used to. Academy’s girls played a lot of topspin lob and just kept it away from them. And Baylee and Melissa did well but were just a little outmatched.
“Peyton and Jake did well getting past the first round, but they came up against a really good team in Los Alamos. No. 1. They played well, but again, when you’re dealing with that kind of competition, no matter what you do, it just seems like you can’t get shots to fall your way.”
Both the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs made it past their first-round opponents Friday morning in the state team tourney, with the No. 7 ‘Dogs besting No. 10 Espanola Valley 8-1 and the ninth seeded Lady Bulldogs taking down No. 8 Belen 6-3.
The Bulldogs swept the doubles competition versus the Sun Devils, and Trejo, Kennemur, Kraft, Prothro and Tailor Baggerly all logged wins in singles, with Juan Montanez coming up just short.
“Espanola Valley was basically a mismatch for us,” said Trentham. “We were the far better team there. Juan came up short in No. 6 singles, but he’s new to tennis this year, and he did really well considering he’s our only guy with no experience.”
That win pitted the ‘Dogs against eventual runner-up Los Alamos, however, and Artesia lost 1-8 to the ‘Toppers.
“That was just too hard a task for us to take on,” Trentham said. “We were in a lot of matches, it’s not like we got blown out love-love in all our sets, but it was the same thing as in individuals – we were up against competition that just plays more than we do, and they’re just more prepared for that type of situation. Our boys fought really hard in a lot of close games, we just weren’t able to pull it out. But we did get one win off of them, so we’ll take it. That was a little bit of a moral victory.”
Prothro and Baggerly accounted for that victory in doubles.
The Lady ‘Dogs, meanwhile, defeated Belen 6-3 in the first round, sending them straight into the path of No. 1 and eventual champion Academy.
Lopez and Conner, and Hailey Ashe and Nicole Marquez delivered doubles wins against Belen, with Conner, McKinney, Richards and Marquez coming out on top in singles play. Against the Lady Chargers, to whom Artesia fell 1-8, Ashe and Marquez posted the win in doubles.
“The girls had lost to Belen at the very beginning of the season at a tournament, and I think they just came in underestimating us,” said Trentham. “We were able to pull off four out of six in singles and put the pressure on them in doubles. And our doubles teams are pretty good. Marissa and Kabryn were the ones to win our fifth match, and it was good for them to be the ones to help get the team over the hump there.
“This was the first time for the girls to get past the first round since about five years ago, so that was great to see. And they also took a win off Academy, so again – we’ll take that.”
Artesia tennis will bid farewell this year to a slate of key seniors in Kennemur, Kraft, Prothro, Lopez, Conner and McKinney, but the quality experience their underclassman teammates gained this year under their leadership will serve the program well in the future.
“Our seniors were fantastic,” said Trentham. “All of them, with the exception of Peyton, have been out there all four years, and he was out there for three. What they did at state really can’t be undermined. To get both teams up to state like we did and get as many kids qualified individually, including all the seniors, was an excellent step forward, and these seniors really invested a lot in this program.
“Even if they don’t choose to keep playing tennis, I know they’re all going to do fantastic things. And Peyton is going to move on to play at the college level, so we’re excited about that. He has several options and hasn’t picked one yet, but regardless of where he goes, he’s going to continue to grow and excel.
“It was a proud moment for us as coaches when we finished off Friday evening, just to see that these kids got to enjoy a moment that was truly a reward for all their labor for so many years. These teams were very close, and we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years with all of them. It’s going to be sad to see the seniors go. They’ve definitely shown a lot of great leadership, and we’ve been very happy with what they’ve done for us the past few years.
“Hopefully the groups moving up can kind of learn a little bit from them and see that sometimes you have to put in those years of dedication before you get the payoff.”