Deerfield No. 1 singles player Nasser Rizvi carried some emotional baggage into Tuesday’s region tournament — and he unloaded it in a big way. Rizvi, a senior, lost what would’ve been the clinching match a year ago as a junior, but he rolled to the title Tuesday, securing the 3-AAA crown for the Knights. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — It looked so perfect, felt so right and came so easily for the kids from Deerfield-Windsor, who not only swept the team titles at the GISA Region 3-AAA tennis tournament Tuesday afternoon at Darton State, but they ran away with both the girls and boys titles.
“We killed them,’’ said Robert Newsome, the captain of the boys team and member of DWS’ No. 1 doubles team. “We scored over 40 points.’’
Well, it was 42 to be exact, more than doubling second-place Southland (20 points), and the girls team also won in a romp, scoring 36 points to second-place Brookwood, which scored 21.
But at the heart of all the smiles and hugs and picture-taking in the celebration that followed was the quite and peaceful look on the face of Nasser Rizvi.
Nobody felt better than Rizvi. Nobody enjoyed Tuesday afternoon as much, and no one will savor this region title the way he will.
It took DWS one afternoon to sweep the titles and qualify for the state tournament.
It took Rizvi a year to wrap his arms around it.
“It was really tough on me last year,’’ said Rizvi, who won the boys No. 1 singles title Tuesday by beating Southland’s Alex Arnold, 6-4, 7-5. “It was important to win it this year, very important because we lost the region title by one point last year, and I’m the one who lost it. I lost to a player I should have beaten, and it cost us the region title.’’
Nobody blamed Rizvi, but he took the burden on himself.
“After we lost, everybody comforted me,’’ he said of his teammates. “But inside it always hurt.’’
He carried it with him.
“I felt real bad, and I worked real hard all year to come back,’’ he said. “It really feels good to win the title, especially the team title.’’
Rizvi is now 19-2 for the season, and it’s a senior season he will never forget, but his main emphasis Tuesday was winning the team title. That’s what it’s all about at Deerfield, where there was a sense of redemption for the boys team and a sense of belonging for the girls.
“It’s all about the team,’’ DWS coach Meredith Gruhl said. “That’s what puts the banner on the wall. When the boys lost by a point last year it was excruciating. They were so disappointed they didn’t get to go to Augusta (for the state team meet). We started talking about it after the (region meet) was over. We started talking about what we needed to do, and then they played in their summer leagues. We got back as a group in November and the team started practicing in January. They were pretty focused.’’
Gruhl was ecstatic both her teams won on Tuesday, and especially proud of the boys.
“The boys had a little more dog in that fight because of losing by one point last year,’’ she said. “They were hungry.’’
Rizvi said he changed his game and came back with a different mindset on the court.
“I worked real hard to become more consistent,’’ he said. “And worked hard not to worry about my opponents’ game and to just worry about my game.’’
No worries on Tuesday. He slammed home a straight set win in the finals and didn’t lose a set all day, rolling to the title and picking up some redemption along the way.
While Rizvi was winning the boys singles title, Tyler Lowe was adding points to DWS’ total by finishing fourth in boys singles.
And then there were DWS’ doubles teams, where you could literally see double in the finals. That’s how dominant the DWS kids were on Tuesday. Deerfield finished first and second in boys doubles and also in girls doubles.
It was no surprise to see both of Deerfield’s boys doubles teams playing for the region title. The same two teams played for it last year. The surprise was the ending.
Pete Langstaff and Will Calhoun, who were the No. 2 doubles team all year, upset DWS’ No. 1 team of Newsome and Reid Wright. Last year, Newsome and Wright beat Langstaff and Calhoun for the title.
“We play each other all the time, and we beat each other all the time,’’ Newsome said.
“But we were on that court,’’ he added, pointing to the court at Darton State. “They always beat us on that court. It’s like their magic court.’’
It took more heart than magic to stage the dramatic comeback that gave Langstaff and Calhoun the title.
They lost the first set, 4-6, and were trailing, 3-0, in the second set when they stormed back to win six games in a row to even things with a 6-3 win. Then the momentum jumped all around the court in the final set.
Langstaff and Calhoun led 3-0 before Newsome and Wright came back to knot things at 5-5 before Langstaff and Calhoun regrouped and won, 7-5.
“We just kept a cool head and just kept playing,” Langstaff said. “They are always No. 1 and we’re always No. 2. When they beat us to win the region last year, we just said, ‘It’s time.’ It was on Tuesday. Newsome and Wright were undefeated this season (20-0) before losing to their teammates.
“We play them a couple of times a week,’’ said Calhoun, a sophomore. “It’s just good competition. It makes us both better.’’
The girls No. 1 doubles team of Amy Rao and Katerina Mathis beat DWS’ No. 2 team of Ansley Arrington and Paige Hawke, 6-1, 6-3, to win the title.
The DWS girls not only won the region team title last year, but went on to win the girls team state title in Augusta. The top doubles team graduated, which made Tuesday’s region title win a bit more rewarding for Rao, a sophomore who played on the No. 2 doubles team last year, and Mathis, a junior who was an alternate a year ago.
“We really wanted it,’’ Mathis said. “There was a little more pressure because we weren’t here last year.’’
If there was pressure, it didn’t show as Rao and Mathis swept through the tournament.
“I think we played really well,’’ Rao said. “I think we played our best. We were really motivated.’’
DWS also picked up team points from Joyner Tyson, who finished second in girls singles, losing a close match to top-seeded Rachel Cooper of Brookwood.
Deerfield now advances to the individual state tennis tournament on Monday in Macon, and the team will compete for the boys and girls team titles on April 29 in Augusta.