Catalina Foothills' girls tennis team lost to Ironwood Ridge in the regular season finale Wednesday, but it may be a good thing for the Falcons.
Foothills came within one match of sweeping the Division II girls tennis state championships last year.
Senior Zaina Sufi won the singles state title, sisters Rachana and Kirtana Bhat combined to win the doubles title, but Foothills lost to I-Ridge in the team championship despite beating the Nighthawks twice in the regular season.
Now, as the individual state tournament opens today and the team tournament opens Tuesday, Foothills is out to prove something.
Kirtana Bhat, a sophomore, said last year's loss as a team has been motivation all year, while Rachana, a senior heading to New Mexico on a full ride, wants to finish her high school career strong.
"Certainly it gives them inspiration and they're going to be hungry for it," Foothills coach Kristie Stevens said about the team's 5-4 loss to I-Ridge. "You always have to look for something positive for any experience, win or lose."
One of the highlights of the loss was Foothills freshman Katie Watson beating sophomore Kelsey Brown, who hadn't lost a high school match.
Watson will represent the Falcons in the singles state tournament and is seeded seventh in the field of 64.
She will try to defend Sufi's title but, if she were to advance to the championship match, she'll likely face top-seeded Sara Brown from I-Ridge, Kelsey's older cousin.
"It's an honor," Watson said. "I love having all my teammates around me supporting and me the same for them. I love supporting them and being part of the team."
In doubles action, the Bhat sisters are the No. 1 seed as they try to defend their title. However, they lost to Kelsey Brown and Marissa Baca, the No. 2 duo in the tournament, 8-6 on Wednesday.
"I think we were just off," Stevens said. "I have a lot of confidence in Rachana and Kirtana."
Foothills earned the No. 3 seed in the team tournament and I-Ridge got the No. 5 seed, meaning another meeting would have to take place in the state championship.
Which would be fitting for this rivalry.
"It's been challenging," Stevens said. "They have to gear up for us and we have to gear up for them, so I think there's a mutual respect when it comes to playing each other and the level of competitiveness each team needs to bring to the match."
Scottsdale Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed and could also make a run for the team title. But it wouldn't be a bad bet to put your money on either or both of these Southern Arizona powers.
The Falcons won 11 of 12 state titles before losing last year.
"We've got a strong team and we will definitely compete well in the state tournament," Stevens said.
More local players sign
Four more Southern Arizona athletes have signed national letters of intent with colleges.
Tucson High shortstop/pitcher Alex Robles signed with Austin Peay on Wednesday. He visited the school in January and knew he wanted to go there since.
"I got to hang out with the players and coaches, and everyone was really cool and really nice," Robles said. "It was just an easy decision to go with them."
Ironwood Ridge linebacker Gordy Longville has signed with Division II Western New Mexico. He was the fifth senior from this year's state title team to earn a scholarship, not including Jake Matthews and Scott Simmons, who turned down football offers.
A pair of basketball players, Cholla's Marcianna Granillo and Mountain View's Lauren Reece, will play at Tohono O'odham Community College.
Granillo was named to the second team of the All-Southern Arizona squad, while Reece made honorable mention.
Blank receives honors
Central Arizona's Nicco Blank, a member of Catalina's 2011 state champion baseball team, was named the ACCAC Division I pitcher of the week after throwing his second no-hitter this season. His first came on March 9 against Eastern Arizona and his most recent came against Glendale CC on Saturday. Blank is 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA through 55 2/3 innings.
Sabino duo shines
Sabino's Carmine Tilghman and Lee Holland combined for three touchdowns for Team Stars and Stripes at Sunday's Global Bowl Torino in Italy. Tilghman scored on a 52-yard run and a 44-yard catch. Holland took an interception 44 yards for a score on the way to a 67-0 win.
Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-7761. On Twitter @DanielGaona13