Grapevine tennis, girls cross country claim first state titles
By Shawn Smajstrla
Special to the Star-Telegram
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014
When the Texas Tennis Coaches Association released its preseason team rankings in August, Grapevine was voted No. 1 in the state in Class 5A. Last week, the Mustangs proved they deserved that ranking by winning their first UIL 5A state title. In fact, it appears to be the first team tennis title for a Tarrant County school. Grapevine held its top ranking wire-to-wire and finished the season with a 10-3 thumping of Boerne
Champion in the state final Friday at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the Texas A&M campus.
“It was pretty shocking and amazing to win state,” said Octavia Malin, one of the Mustangs’ six team captains and one of only three seniors on the 21-player squad. “The goal my freshman year was to make it past the first round of regionals. So as far as we’ve come, I think it’s amazing how our team has grown and I got to finish my senior year with such an amazing experience.”
Just how dominant was Grapevine throughout much of this year? The Mustangs finished 18-5, with all five losses coming against 6A competition. Against 5A foes, the Mustangs went 270-10 in matches. Boys doubles team Alex Joseph and Miha Valencic didn’t lose a single match all year. “To me as a coach it was a huge burden, constantly having to remind the kids that it’s a very subjective poll and that every day you have to go out and prove that No. 1 ranking,” coach Angel Martinez said. “One of the challenges I had — and this is going to sound crazy — but this is a very loose group, and at the beginning I was trying to rein that in. But then the more I thought about it, I realized being loose is a good thing and that’s when these kids play their best. So I tried not to overcoach the kids. Just keeping them loose was the right move.”
Malin said it was an approach that flowed throughout the team. “I think we all had the same mindset going in, that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let’s
just go for it and stay calm and relaxed,” she said. Malin might be wrong regarding one aspect, though. With 18 players returning next year, expectations will be high for Grapevine to vie for its second state championship.
UIL cross country
Grapevine also played a major role in the UIL cross country state meet held Saturday in Round Rock. Junior Skyler Simon earned the school’s first-ever gold medal, topping the 5A girls competition by almost a full 20 seconds.
“I was anticipating qualifying for state, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would do because we just moved to the lower classification and it was new competition against girls I hadn’t really raced yet,” Simon said. “I was ecstatic about it. It’s hard to put into words exactly how I felt. It was just so surreal. I felt like I was floating, and I think it hasn’t quite registered still that it happened.”
Several of Simon’s teammates finished in the top 32, earning the Mustangs the team silver medal. “Our girls really stepped up,” Grapevine coach Rick Miller said. “Skyler set the tone, but a big key was runners two through four. Only 8 seconds separated Lauren Edwards, Shelmith Matongo and Emery Hailey. They ran their best race of the season when it counted most. Daniela Walls did what we needed as our fifth runner.”
The Grapevine boys finished sixth, led by Alex Cleveland’s fourth-place individual finish.
In 6A, Southlake Carroll continued its dominance by clinching its fourth consecutive boys team title.
Reed Brown paced the Dragons with his seventh-place finish, while Elijah Canal ran 20th. “That’s the ultimate goal every year is to work toward the state championship and they just kept their eye on the prize the whole season,” Dragons coach Justin Leonard said. “Once you get to the state meet, you always feel like anything can happen and that we have a good shot to win it. It was fun to watch.”
The 6A individual boys champion also hails from District 7-6A, with junior David Strome of Colleyville Heritage taking gold, fronting second place by just under 4 seconds.
The Carroll girls, trying for a fourth straight title, finished fourth. “We wanted to be a podium team, but getting fourth at the regional meet and then turning around the next weekend and getting fourth in the state meet, I thought we ran great,” Leonard said. “It’s
disappointing, but we simply got beat by three teams that are better than us.”
With six underclassmen and five of the seven girls never having been to the state meet before, Carroll figures to be back in the mix in 2015. Other notable performances from the meet included the Keller Timber Creek boys’ sixth-place finish in 6A. Keller High landed a pair of runners in the top 20, with senior Meghan Lloyd placing 12th in
girls competition and fellow junior Carter Persyn 16th among boys.