Pair of Grand Junction doubles teams rally after first-set loss to advance to finals
Riley King and Max Nikkari got off to a rough start.
Actually, the young Grand Junction No. 1 doubles team was pretty hideous in the first set of their semifinal match in the Class 5A Region 5 tournament on Thursday.
The 6-1 drubbing they absorbed from Rocky Mountain got the duo’s attention. That, and some coaching from Tigers coach Carol Wilder.
“We changed a few things up in the second set in terms of our formation, which brought some positive results,” she said.
A move to an “I-formation” netted big-time results. The Rocky Mountain team started making mistakes and the Tigers started making shots. The result was a total shift in the match and in confidence.
King and Nikkari advanced to today’s finals with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 win.
Along with the No. 1 doubles team, a total of five Grand Junction flights advanced to today’s finals — all three singles players and the No. 2 doubles team.
In the team standings, Grand Junction has a comfortable lead over Ponderosa 48-34. Rocky Mountain is next at 28 with Fruita Monument fourth with 21.
As the Tigers No. 1 doubles players’ confidence soared, the better they played.
“We knew we weren’t playing the best that we could, so we just dug deep and brought each other up, and played the best we could,” King said.
Nikkari, a freshman, agreed and gave credit to the coaching.
“We went over and talked to coach, took a deep breath, and she told us what to do, and we went out and executed,” he said. “We started playing smarter tennis and getting balls in play.”
Wilder said she needed to get the attention of King and Nikkari, then pump up the encouragement.
“I did get on them a little after that first set,” she said with a smile. “They are young and sometimes they get down on themselves and harp on the past instead of looking to the present.”
King started serving better and that’s when the match turned.
“I just relaxed and that’s when I really felt like my partner and I could do it together,” he said.
King, a sophomore who qualified for state last year at No. 3 doubles, said the match was the most exciting and best win of his prep career.
“It’s unexplainable. It’s the best thing in the world,” he said.
The Tigers’ No. 2 doubles team also went three sets to advance to the finals after a fierce battle with a pesky Fruita Monument team.
The two seniors for the Tigers, Max Weckerly and Tommy Mahre, rebounded after dropping the first set to beat Fruita’s Preston Vance and Jon Bishop 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals.
This is Weckerly’s first season on the tennis court and after some struggles in the fist set, the pair settled into a good rhythm.
“We both just realized that we needed a lot higher intensity,” he said.
After teaming with King last year at No. 3 doubles, Mahre said he’s meshed well with Weckerly this season.
“It’s all about getting a really good dynamic and working well with your partner,” he said. “It’s always positive energy out there on the court.”
In the singles competition, all three Grand Junction players cruised to easy semifinal wins after getting byes in the first round.
Cal Hegstrom made quick work of Alex Fleishman of Rocky Mountain, with a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles. Cameron Weckerly defeated Central’s Watts Erb 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2.
The No. 3 singles final will feature a pair who know one another very well. Grand Junction’s Luke Aubert was a straight-set winner as was Fruita Monument senior Jackson Cesark.
The two have faced each other at least five times over the past three months.
Aubert, who qualified for state at No. 3 singles last year, has won the past two meetings.
“This is my third year playing (high school) and I feel like the more experience you get the more confidence you gain,” he said.
Cesark, who just missed a state berth last year when he was playing No. 1 doubles, is playing well.
“It started to kick in, I feel like my game is really starting to show,” he said. “There’s always pressure (at regionals), but you have to block that out and have fun with it, and just play your game.”
The Wildcats also advanced their No. 4 doubles team to the finals.
Jon May and August Pomrenke got a 6-2, 6-1 win over Grand Junction’s Matt Carbajal and Devin Zunich in the semifinals.
There was a bit of a surprise in the first round at No. 2 singles when Erb, a Central sophomore, won his match, a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ethan Strother of Rocky Mountain. It was the first win over the season for Erb.
“It was kinda crazy, it was my first win of the season but I guess it came at a good time,” he said. “I think it will help my confidence a lot.”
After losing to Cameron Weckerly in the semifinals, Erb will now play in the third-place match against Brandon Lovato of Fruita.
The top two players from each flight will advance to the 5A state tournament in Denver Oct. 12-14.
Third-place finishers could still have a shot at state if they have not played one of the players in the finals.