For the first time in years, the Region 10 girls tennis championship is there for the taking — and Tooele and Stansbury both will have a say in who brings home the first-place trophy.
A vastly improved Tooele squad played its county rival to a 3-3 tie Tuesday at Tooele High School, showing just how much the Buffaloes have improved in a short time. Third singles player Rylee Nielson had a come-from-behind 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Stansbury’s Anna Jones, while seniors Taya Unruh and Kammy Hamilton were 6-4, 6-1 winners at first doubles over Stansbury’s Kate Rich and Daniela Cowan and Grace Bell and Hannah Sheppard won 6-3, 7-5 at second doubles over Briley Wilson and Kami Smith.
“They are undefeated in region and kind of control their own destiny now,” Tooele coach Patrick Ciervo said of Unruh and Hamilton. “They know what they need to do further down the road.”
Unruh and Hamilton are well on their way to grabbing the No. 1 seed from the region for the upcoming Class 4A state tournament, while Nielson should earn a state berth at third singles as long as injuries don’t shuffle Tooele’s lineup. Ciervo has been impressed with how his 36-player roster has come together, as well as how the program has progressed over the past five years.
“This group of seniors has taken us from the doldrums and kind of built us up over the years,” Ciervo said. “We are proving that we can be competitive. I’m looking for growth and improvement, and these girls have definitely improved.
“It’s created a lot of interesting practices, and yet I think it’s worked,” Ciervo said of his team’s large roster. “Each one of the girls gets along really well, and they like each other. A lot of times if you have a large group, you’re going to have some cliques. We have no cliques. We have one clique called the team.”
Meanwhile, Stansbury has had a strong season in its own right, though the doubles teams are still a work in progress. Hannah Anderson beat Tooele’s Angela Shaw 6-0, 6-1 at first singles, and Liz Fidler was a 6-3, 6-0 winner at second singles over Olivia Small. The Stallions also came away with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 win by Izzy Martin and Natalie Ogden at third doubles over Tess Flake and Camilla Pankratz.
“You look at any of our seniors, and there’s so many combinations and permutations we could create with doubles,” Stansbury coach Jacob Jones said. “We’ve been trying to come up with that right combination. We’ve been switching it up so much, but we’re trying to find that combination that’s going to work.
“They’re learning and they’re great. We’ve got a great, great team with great girls. They don’t complain — they’ve got every right to complain and they don’t. They come out every day to work hard and play hard and they enjoy being out here together. They’ve been the closest team we’ve ever had as far as friendship.”
Anderson, in her second year as the Stallions’ top singles player, has been impressive. Her only loss in region play came against Uintah, and she has shown a knack for grinding out victories in difficult matches.
“She’s an athlete and she gives everything she has every single match,” Jones said. “In a match where you expect her to lose, she doesn’t expect herself to lose, so I expect her to win or give herself a chance every single match. She’s won matches where you walk on and think ‘there’s no way she wins this one,’ and she does. She’s a competitor and she fights, and she’s a wonderful leader on the team. The team loves her.”
The Stallions trail Uintah by two points for the region title entering next week’s region tournament, set to take place next Wednesday and Thursday at Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain. Between now and then, they will try to work out some of the bugs to give them a shot at the top spot, with Uintah, Ogden and Tooele all in contention.
“This is a really good learning experience for all the girls,” Stansbury assistant coach Bob Haines said. “Not only are they having some success, but they’re facing some adversity. We go into our practices with things that we can actually work on.”