In a possible preview of the Division II state finals next month, Catalina Foothills left no question Thursday about who’s trending better by sweeping Ironwood Ridge, last year’s state champ.
The 9-0 road win for the top-ranked Falcons avenged a 5-4 loss against the Nighthawks in the state semifinals last year, and capped off a flawless 14-0 regular season. It also made them a favorite to win yet another team state championship.
The loss for fourth-ranked I-Ridge (10-2) snapped a 10-match winning streak. The Nighthawks previously lost 8-1 against No. 2 Salpointe Catholic on March 5.
The Falcons will almost certainly be the top seed in the state tournament, which begins April 29. Keeping the No. 1 ranking means a lot for sophomore John Miller, but it’s not the main prize.
“It’s big to say we are the best team in-state, but state is the big thing,” he said.
Miller, who won his singles match 6-0, 6-0, is 32-0 at Foothills, and has not lost a set the past two seasons.
Falcons coach David King said the win against the Nighthawks helped his squad mentally.
“This gives us a lot of confidence heading toward the state tournament,” said King, who is in his second season at Foothills. “It confirms the depth we have and the quality.”
Though the Falcons were in control the entire match, junior Bogdan Racolta said it’s unfortunate his team has not played in many close matches this season — something the Falcons will likely run into in the postseason.
Because of that, he believes he can’t judge the Falcons’ mental state.
“To gauge that question, you have to play in some very close matches,” Racolta said. “Unfortunately, we have not played in those matches.”
Given the chance, the Romanian believes he’ll excel in the state tournament.
“When there is a close match, and there is this feeling that comes upon ... this tightness, everything tenses up,” Racolta said.
“I love that feeling. I embrace it. Most people choke, freeze. Because of that, I believe I can go above the competition.”
I-Ridge junior Ryan Knox, who dropped a close No. 1 singles match to Racolta, has been the right-hand man to Nighthawks coach Tim Berrier, who is in his first year with the team. Berrier, the school’s wrestling coach, doesn’t know a ton about tennis, and he appreciates his player’s steadiness.
“He’s the kind of kid you want on every team you have,” Berrier said. “I’ve leaned on him. He’s stepped up like a man.”
Knox thinks he and his teammates could learn a thing or two from Berrier in terms of toughening up.
“Everyone could be a little stronger mentally,” Knox said. “I got mad at myself. I know the other kids did, too. It’s just not productive. Realizing it’s not productive and moving past it is where we need to be.”
Foothills senior Jackson Lee and sophomore Mike Lee, last year’s singles state champion, did not compete in the match.
Both missed the team bus and were unavailable to play. The decision was based on school policy, not Arizona Interscholastic Association rules.
When asked about who will be on the Falcons postseason roster, King said, “I don’t know.”
The deadline to select players for the team state tournament was Thursday at noon.