Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There’s an uncertain, yet fascinating element surrounding this weekend’s 5A boys tennis state tournament that’s been lacking for quite some time: The team title isn’t a foregone conclusion.
Seven-time state champion Brighton has been king of 5A tennis for a very long time, but many believe Viewmont is poised to dethrone the champs.
“I don’t know if we’re the team to beat or not. We haven’t played Brighton, and haven’t seen them play this year. But we are excited,” said Viewmont coach Mark Burningham. “This is something we’ve been looking forward to all year. The kids have been talking about state all year. It’s been the goal.”
Brighton beat Viewmont by just four points at last year’s state meet, but many expect a role reversal at Liberty Park this Friday and Saturday.
It would be foolish, however, to consider the Bengals a championship afterthought. Even though their singles aren’t as strong as years past, their doubles teams are very good, and there’s still definitely a scenario in which the Bengals could win their state-record eighth-straight 5A title.
Brighton coach Natalie Aposhian said her players are feeling good ahead of the state tournament, but she’s trying not to get them too caught up in looking beyond Friday morning’s first round.
“We’re just going to stay focused. You have to take one match at a time. I looked at the draws today, and you can look ahead to where you’re supposed to meet people, but there are other rounds you have to go through to where Brighton would play Viewmont,” said Aposhian.
Viewmont and Brighton could easily meet in all five matches, but only the doubles teams have the potential to meet in the finals. Their singles teams are on the same side of the bracket, a big reason the Vikes are the favorite.
Viewmont’s Sam Tullis and Jacob Tullis are the prohibitive favorites at first and second singles this weekend, with neither expected to drop a set en route to the titles. Sam Tullis is the defending first singles champion, while his younger brother Jacob Tullis lost in the second singles championship match last year as a freshman.
Burningham has been very impressed by their continued commitment this season.
“Sam and Jacob, they have continued to find ways to improve, continue to put forth the effort and dedication,” said Burningham.
Cottonwood’s Zeke Richards lost to Sam Tullis at first singles last year, 6-4, 6-3, and the bracket is set up for them to meet in the final again.
Third singles is much more up in the air, which may ultimately determine the team title. Brighton freshman Chase Stoner and Viewmont senior Nic Lebaron are poised to meet in the semifinals. It’s tough to put a favorite tag on either of them. A Viewmont win would all but clinch the title, whereas if Stoner wins he’d have to turn right back around in the championship match and likely face Alta’s Connor Pulsipher, who he’s already lost to.
Scenarios like that are where Aposhian said state tournaments are unpredictable.
“State is a different beast. There’s pressure at state that’s different than anything these kids have ever dealt with unless they’ve been to state,” she said.
With Viewmont expected to sweep first and second singles, Brighton realistically needs to do the same with first and second doubles to have a shot at coveted title No. 8. The Bengals’ first-doubles team features freshman Mitchell Mansell and sophomore Anthony Panuzio, and their second-doubles team includes freshman Cheyenne Perry and Brandon Budge.
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