By Nate Ogle
At Radford University last weekend, both the George Mason High School girls and boys varsity tennis teams won their respective state titles. The girls defeated Radford High School, 5-3, while the boys overwhelmed Glenvar High School, 5-0, to finish their seasons 15-1 and 17-1 respectively.
For the boys, the 2013 season was another example of their consistent dominance as they brought home their fourth-straight title behind battle-tested seniors and co-captains Tommy Weber and Santiago Villalon. Mason easily handled familiar state finals foe Glenvar, only dropping a single set in a total of six matches. Mason Head Coach Matthew Sowers was not surprised by the comprehensive win.
“I knew that we had a clear advantage because of how deep we are one through six, and how easily our best [Weber] handled their best in the state singles semifinals,” Sowers said.
When asked how the team would continue to play at a high level in 2014 without the graduating captains, Sowers cited the program’s depth and ability to reload year after year with talented players. He tabbed juniors Jacob Morris, Nate Jones, and Jacob Field to step up and become the focal points of the team. To fill out the other three starter spots, Sowers hopes to incorporate some talent already on the team this year or draw from the competitive tryouts at the beginning of the year; 28 players tried out for 14 spots this year.
However, Weber and Villalon leave large shoes to fill. Not only do the pair’s 137 combined wins rank among the most all-time, Sowers acknowledged that “the leadership they displayed on and off the court will be tough to replace.”
While Sowers expects the group of rising seniors to lead the team through their actions, he added that he does not yet know who will emerge as the vocal leader.
For the girls team, 2013 was a banner year as they rebounded from two consecutive losing seasons to win their program’s first championship in 25 years. The team was led by a trio of first-year Mason varsity players: freshmen Mariam Salakaia and Carrinton Mauney, and sophomore Kynadi Mauney. In addition to the team championship, Salakaia won the state singles tournament, and the Mauney sisters were victorious on the doubles side.
Although the boys accomplished their primary goal of repeating as state team champs, they were unable to match the girls’ sweep of the three events. They did not qualify a doubles team, and Weber finished as the runner-up in the singles tournament, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Gate City High School’s John Ferguson.
The girls final was much closer than the boys’ as they drew Radford 3-3 in the singles matches, which resulted in the outcome being decided by doubles matches. In the clinching match, the duo of Salakaia and junior Peggy Brozi won the first set, but dropped the second, forcing a deciding third set. Between the sets, Mason Head Coach Chrisline Baldo urged the pair to regain their composure, reminding them to do as they had emphasized all season long: “Stay focused, know what you want, and take each game one point at a time.”
The speech proved effective as they pulled out the third set 6-2. Mental toughness is one of Baldo’s primary philosophies, as she preaches that tennis is a mental game with matches at the state level often being decided by how well players handle adversity as opposed to solely how skillfully they play.
Baldo believes that her emphasis on the mental nature of tennis will pay huge dividends for her team next year as it returns all of its players and they look to repeat as state champs.
“Our main goal is to repeat, and we will use the same philosophy next year as we did this year,” Baldo said. “We don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on the girls.”