Plano West juniors Jo Jo Thai and Emma Gener saved their best for last on Friday at the Class 6A state tennis tournament.
At one point tasked with digging out of an 0-1 set deficit, the two Lady Wolves caught fire down the homestretch of the championship round in girls doubles, winning 11 of their final 12 games played and exiting Texas A&M University with a state championship.
Thai and Gener teamed up for an undefeated two days in College Station, besting Klein’s Sonya Bhakthavachalam and Paula Cerda (6-7(4), 6-4 and 6-1) to hoist West’s first spring state title since 2014.
“It’s always nice, no doubt about it,” said Morgen Walker, West head coach. “We had a rough start losing that first-set tiebreaker … but credit to them. They wanted to win it, and they went out there and did it.”
Not only were Gener and Thai staring down the early 0-1 hole, the duo trailed in the second set, 4-1, before winning 10 consecutive games to firmly swing momentum.
“Their body language wasn’t good,” Walker said. “We had to have a bit of an adjustment in that regard and changed the demeanor to turn things around on their end.
“… I felt like we were dictating things pretty much, but just needed to pick it up a bit.”
Fittingly enough, it all culminated in Thai and Gener authoring their most convincing set of the tournament, capturing the state championship on the strength of a 6-1 win over Bhakthavachalam and Cerda in the third frame.
“They got excited. They were having fun out there and really taking it to them in the third set,” Walker said.
Gener and Thai entered the state tournament as the runners-up from Region I-6A, but followed through with an unblemished 3-0 record over two days on the Texas A&M tennis courts. Prior to Friday’s final, the Lady Wolves picked up wins over Austin Vandegrift’s Anisha Apte and Synclair Larson (3-6, 6-3, 6-2) and Cy-Fair’s Kayal Gownder and Shalom Victor (6-4, 6-4).
They weren’t alone during the drive south, joined by West’s boys doubles duo of sophomore Caden Moortgat and freshman Arjun Kersten. Moortgat, making his straight trip to the spring state tourney, and Kersten weathered a tough three-setter against The Woodlands’ Garrett Skelly and Hunter Bajoit (6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4) in the quarterfinals on Thursday, but fell short in the semifinals against Clear Creek’s Michael Raji and Carter Crookston (6-4, 4-6, 6-4).
“This was the deepest boys doubles draw I’ve seen in a long time,” Walker said. “We had two brutal matches [on Thursday] that went three sets in the heat. They were tough all the way through. We had some opportunities, but neither team could take charge and run away with it.
“We dropped a close third set 6-4 to a team that had a fierce battle in the finals the next day, which shows how deep everything was.”
Allen freshman Jordan Mitchell was also in action, making her debut at state in girls singles. The youngest state tournament qualifier in program history, Mitchell dropped a straight-set decision to Houston Memorial’s Aleksandra Dimitrijevic (6-0, 6-2).
Fortunately for their respective programs, all five state qualifiers are projected to return for the 2018-19 school year. Tennis resumes with the team season in August, where West and Allen regroup in Region II as part of 9-6A.
Last year, the Wolves and Eagles comprised both halves of the Region I final, with West advancing to the 6A state semifinals.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Walker said. “We have a solid, solid group coming back and some good ones coming up. We should be in the thick of things next year for sure.”