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Varsity Tennis Gets Some Small But Important Victories Against Memorial

By Brock Hamlin & Margaret Sanchez, 10/02/23, 9:05PM CDT


Last Tuesday, Sparty welcomed the Memorial High Mustangs for a greatly anticipated match-up between the last two undefeated teams in District play. Historically, tennis matches with Memorial have been a one-sided affair in favor of Red Pony. On paper, this year the 2023-24 Mustangs are a downright terrifying proposition. The Mustangs are ranked No. 2 in the State among 6A schools. They’re also coming off a 14th-consecutive Regional Championships and have a roster full of future college players.

But matches aren’t played on paper—they are played on hard courts. Memorial was expected to dominate this match-up, but someone forgot to tell the young Spartan players, who go by the mantra--respect everyone but fear none, especially Memorial.

We started with doubles, where Sparty got off to a rocky start in Line 1 Boys. The duo of Liam Collins and Emerson Hamlin has gotten better and stronger by the week and there were quiet hopes that the young duo would catch Memorial’s Egor Morozov and Nate Sartelle snoozing. But it wasn’t to be. Memorial was too strong, taking the upper hand after Hamlin’s equipment snafu and winning easily in straight sets. Memorial also dominated Lines 2 and 3 and lost a total of 4 games in 3 matches.

There was a completely different story in Girls Doubles as Renee Lee and Erin Bui fought tooth and nail before coming up just short. On Line 2, Brianna Johnson and Alice Jiang dropped the first set, before roaring back to take the second and forcing the tiebreak, only to lose a nail-biter. Line 3 proved equally as tough as Ruthie Egger and June Lim took Memoria’s duo all the way to the tiebreak before losing it 10-6. The close matches on the girls' side would prove to be a clue of what would follow.

With the match now 0-6, the prospect of an embarrassing team bagel was getting closer to reality. Sparty looked to the Mixed Doubles team of Nico Boza and Anna Sanchez to get us on the scoreboard, but that proved daunting after Nico and Anna lost the first set 4-0.

But then something happened. After a change in strategy, Nico and Anna took the 2nd set and then pulled out an exhilarating 10-8 win in the tiebreaker. Sparty was on the board. Singles was about to begin. And something extraordinary was about to happen.

Freshman Liam Collins was warming up to play Egor Morozov (the 6’5” Keyser Söze of local high school tennis). Liam looks every bit the mild-mannered freshman until you put a racquet in his hands. Against Egor, he looked like David vs. Goliath. That’s when Head Athletic Coach Todd Rankin led the Spartan football team off the grass turf and into Spartan tennis lore. Still in full battle rattle, the team filled every nook and cranny near Court 1 in anticipation. When Liam cracked a winner on a dazzling point, the entire football team roared their approval. It happened again on the second point. Liam ended up holding his first service game. They only stayed for a couple of games, but the effect was electric.

Thank you to the players, trainers, Coach Rankin, and his coaching staff for that jolt of electricity.

After dropping a tight first set, Liam came back and was building momentum, landing body blow after body blow, finally forcing Egor to take a knee from the onset of cramps. There was some controversy as Egor was allowed 20 minutes to recover from what is generally considered a conditioning issue, not an injury. The break in action was just enough to change the dynamic, as Liam dropped the match in a tight two-set loss. There was more bad news as the scores from the Boys Lines 2 through 6 continued to roll in.

If Sparty was supposed to be intimidated, the girls were having none of it as they notched a number of dominant Singles wins over Memorial. Senior Anna Sanchez pounded the ball in a win over Eva Brytik. Fellow Senior Renee Lee dumped Lucy Chung en route to a straight-set victory. And Freshman Briana Johnson got it going with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Lucy Chung.

Controversy struck again in Line 1 as Sophomore Erin Bui appeared to win as she approached the net after winning match point in the tiebreaker. A discussion over the score ensued and play resumed with curious onlookers wondering what just happened. Moments later, Erin’s volley dumped into the net and it was over.

Spartan Tennis was bested 14-5 by Memorial and gets the first loss in District play.

Coach Deion “Prime” Sanders said there are no moral victories, but there are cracks in the aura of Mustang invincibility as the Girls of Sparta absolutely took it to Memorial. Look for Coach Bianchi and Senior Captains Nico Boza, Anna Sanchez, and Renee Lee to regroup. Spartan Tennis will be eagerly awaiting rematches in District.

Additionally this week we celebrated Coach Bianchi’s birthday. On Tuesday of this week we will play away against Jersey Village.