Bedford, St. Thomas rule doubles
MANCHESTER — It was as if the tennis gods just didn’t want to see Julia Keenan leave the New Hampshire high school circuit for the last time.
For two hours and 21 minutes, the Bishop Guertin tandem of Brianna Leonard and Lauren Hayward gave the defending state champions all they could handle and more.
But in the end Keenan, the four-time singles champion and Anna Hayes would not be denied as the St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover duo posted a hard-fought 7-5, 7-5 decision for the NHIAA Girls’ Doubles Tournament crown at Southern New Hampshire University Monday.
On the boys’ side two courts away, there was a passing of the torch as two-time defending state singles champion Mark HoSang and standout junior McKinley Grimes of Bedford steamrolled to a workmanlike 6-1, 6-1 doubles championship final win against previously unbeaten Jared Taylor and Matt Smith of Pelham.
HoSang departs to the University of Connecticut with two singles and two doubles titles, leaving Grimes to lead the Bulldogs in the Division I ranks next season.
Keenan, the only tennis player in the state of New Hampshire to win four singles titles, will attend Seton Hall University next fall. She leaves the high school ranks with no regrets. “Some players never get to win one state title and I’m fortunate to have more than I could ever ask for. It’s just awesome,” she said.
Hayes said she entered the finals with only one thought in mind. “I kept telling myself and Julia that we’re not losing this match,” said Hayes. “I mean this is Julia’s last match and there was no way we were going home with a loss.”
But to BG’s credit, Leonard and Hayward didn’t simply hand the title away. In the first set, BG led 1-0, 2-1 and 5-4, needing just one more game to tip the scales and take the early momentum.
But as defending champions, Keenan and Hayes stuck with the game plan and won the last three games to take the set.
“Julia was completely committed to the third ball all match long,” said BG head coach Debbie Lloyd. “Any ball around the net, she was putting away. We did our best to play around her and at times, we did get the ball past Julia. But she’s so good and so strong that its hard to constantly keep the ball away from her. But I thought my girls showed great patience and played well to the final point.”
The second set was tied 5-5, but St. Thomas broke serve and Hayes served out the final game and match point to seal the deal.
Keenan credited Hayes for “keeping the ball alive with some tough shots. She always keeps me going because she’s so positive. We’ve been together and best of friends since seventh grade and we wanted to win this championship together in our last match. This is special and credit BG because we’re haven’t been in a close match like this in some time. It feels even better when you win a tough match like this one.”
On the boys’ side, you’d figure Grimes and HoSang would know every little tennis detail about themselves right down to their records.
But Grimes’ eyes lit up after the match when HoSang mentioned he had never lost a doubles match during his high school career.
“Never?” asked Grimes. “I didn’t know that, Mark. Thanks for telling me now. ”
Actually some things are better left unsaid until the right time.
While the Smith and Taylor were very worthy contenders for the state title, HoSang and McKinley have been on a different level ever since they won a recent USTA doubles match against two current top five ranked tennis players in the region, Carl Reid of Mattapan, Mass., and Ben Tso of Lexington, Mass.
“I’m ranked 15th in New England and McKinley is 45th. Those two (Tso and Reid) are top five. We just fed off it and we’ve been playing at a high level with extreme confidence,” said HoSang, who teamed with Myles Utell last year to win the NHIAA doubles title.
“Myles was just a steady player,” said HoSang. “McKinley is just explosive and together we have aggressive styles that’s hard to match.”
Taylor and Smith, who finished their outstanding season at 18-1 overall, said they just couldn’t slow the pace down. “We just couldn’t find our comfort zone against them,” said Smith. “Their points were coming quickly and often. They just didn’t let up.”
NHIAA Executive Director Pat Corbin stepped in between both Pelham players and said “you won’t find two better players who displayed better sportsmanship than these boys. I’m proud of them.”
Taylor , wearing the runner-up medal around his neck, said he was proud to be the first boys’ doubles team from Pelham to reach the finals. “No one could say that before today,” he said. “Our goal was to reach the finals and obviously we wanted to win it all. But they showed they’re a great team and we’re honored to be going back with the runner-up title.”
HoSang said his only career singles loss to Alex Burbine of Londonderry served as a motivational tool that led him to what McKinley called two “triple crown wins.” The last two seasons, HoSang has won the team, singles and doubles crown.
“I’m happy with the legacy I’ve established for myself and that I’m now leaving behind,” he said. “I hope people will remember me as a very good tennis player who won multiple championships. I also want to thank coach (Shawna) Morley for all the guidance and leadership she gave not only to me, but the entire team.”
In the semifinals rounds, Smith and Taylor defeated the Londonderry duo of Harrison Max and Matt McKinney, 7-6 (7-0), 7-6 (7-3). HoSang and Grimes erased Concord’s Peter Rouvalis and Greg Cistulli, 6-1, 6-2. Keenan and Hayes eliminated Jennifer Dai and Elizabeth DiCesare of BG, 6-1, 6-0 while Leonard and Hayward forged past Hanover’s Camille Hankel and Maddie Dewhirst, 6-1, 7-5.