Rowland Hall won the 1A/2A boys state tennis tournament Saturday, posting an 11-point victory over runner-up Manti.
But the bigger story than the favorite Winged Lions' second consecutive state title was the two that got away, preventing them from getting a sweep of the medals stand.
Nobody figured Rowland Hall's top gun would be shot down by an upstart junior representing his entire high school, but it happened in the No. 1 singles match.
State favorite Sam Miller mowed through his first two matches, posting a 6-0, 6-0 win in the first round and a 6-0, 6-2 victory in the semifinals. Miller went into the finals as an extremely talented, yet untested player who was 3A state champion for Park City as a freshman in 2007. His opponent for Saturday's title match: second-seeded Beau Browning from Duchesne, an Iowa transplant whom Miller had defeated twice during the season already.
Miller won the first set 6-4. Both Miller and Browning showed signs of brilliance mixed with moments of sluggishness in the first set. In the second set, the momentum went Browning's way as he made quick work of Miller, taking the set 6-1. Tension was higher than the score indicated in the deciding set, and it seemed Miller may have let the frustration of losing a set to Browning get to him, dropping the last set 6-2.
A handful of Browning's family and friends were there to witness Duchesne's first-ever state champion, who immediately celebrated the victory with an emotional hug with his mom on the court.
"I didn't want to lose to the same person three times in a row," Browning said. "I just tried to be more aggressive after the first set. When people get frustrated, they tend to hit harder and send the ball sailing. So I tried to hit with power to get him to do that."
Browning by himself catapulted Duchesne into fourth place with five points.
Manti helped itself to second place in the tournament by beating top-seeded Rowland Hall in the No. 1 doubles final, which was the final event of the day. The energetic, emotional tandem of Robert Thompson and Daniel Livsey led Rowland Hall to a quick start, beating the ragtag, basketball shoe-wearing Manti tandem of Griffin Aste and Nick Brown in the first set.
But the Manti duo returned the favor in the second set, setting up a deciding set for the state title. If the Templars won, it would guarantee them the runner-up position for the team title, something not many thought would be possible at the first of the season, with many key seniors from last year lost to graduation.
The third set was a roller-coaster ride with the teams trading the lead back and forth all game. As soon as Thompson and Livsey were getting their groove back, Aste and Brown answered back. Eventually, Manti won the set, 7-5, guaranteeing the Templars a nine-point second-place state finish, one point better than third-place Parowan.
"We expected that our No. 1 doubles kids would take state, even though we weren't picked to even win our region," said Manti assistant coach Todd Jorgensen, who has developed many of the Manti players. "I'm proud of them, I'm proud of their progress, and that's all you can ask for. If they lose, they lose, but if they have a desire to get better, that's all we want."
Even though there were some public-school athletes triumphing over private school behemoth Rowland Hall, collectively the deep Winged Lions' team was too much for the rest of the state. Freshman Joe Illingworth won the No. 2 singles title in impressive fashion, never once losing a set. Lions sophomore Matt Bossart also crushed the opposition, losing only three games the entire day at No. 3 singles. Stevenson Smith and Allen Ward won 6-0, 6-0 to give Rowland Hall the No. 2 doubles crown."I thought the quality of play was awesome," Rowland Hall coach Tim Sleeper said. "My boys played really solid today. We have a very deep squad. Even our 13th player can compete with anyone."
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