Blazers' Dice & Jenkins advance to state semis

May 23, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- If first impressions always mattered in tennis, the careers of Clear Spring seniors Sarah Dice and Amanda Jenkins would have ended Friday at the Maryland State Championships.

But looks can be deceiving, and because of that, Dice and Jenkins will play one more day before the curtain closes.

The Blazers' three-time Washington County girls doubles champions -- who reached the state quarterfinals a year ago -- advanced one step further Friday at the Tennis Center in College Park. They upset LaPlata's No. 3-seeded Anna Wells and Danira Lutui 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals to book a spot in today's semifinals at the University of Maryland.

Wells and Lutui were so intimidating in warmups -- especially the tall and muscular Lutui with her big serve and forehand -- that Jenkins told Clear Spring coach Lisa Shives, "They're scary."


But for all her power, Lutui's shots were often off the mark -- especially in the first four games of the first set as Dice and Jenkins raced to a stunning 4-0 lead. The Blazers' experienced duo combined intelligent play with plenty of hustle, and never buckled under the pressure as Wells and Lutui started playing better tennis and made a thrilling match out of it.

"We knew we couldn't overpower them. We had to be consistent, whether with lobs or smashes, whatever, we had to keep the ball in play," Jenkins said. "Now we know what we have to do to win against that kind of team. I wanted to make it past the first round. Winning states is the big goal, but winning a round is also good. Now we've won two and in the semis we want to play our best."

"I am 100 percent happy," Dice said. "We fought so hard today, we both gave 110 percent and came through and now we're in the semis. We were diving into fences to get this win. After facing these girls, I doubt any girls can hit harder. We handled the power, we were consistent, and we just have to keep doing it tomorrow."

Wells and Lutui won four straight games to tie the first set at 4, with Lutui's booming first serves staving off three break points in the sixth game of the set.

Jenkins hit a huge backhand to help Clear Spring hold serve at 5-4. Then with Lutui serving, the Blazers worked their way to break point at 30-40 and Jenkins' smash at the net sealed the set.

Both teams held serve in the second set until the seventh game, when Jenkins had two double faults and missed a forehand to give Wells and Lutui the break and a 4-3 lead. But Clear Spring broke right back -- Lutui double faulted on break point -- then held serve for a 5-4 lead.

With Wells serving, the Blazers once again worked the score to 30-40 for match point, but a big serve and Lutui's volley made it deuce. On the next point, a Dice groundstroke caught the net cord and fell on LaPlata's side, giving Clear Spring another match point. This time, a nice Dice return led to an easy smash for Jenkins, who put the match away.

"What I liked about them today is they never stopped communicating," Shives said. "They never got down, even when they were trailing briefly in the second set. When the match was on the line, they played to win.

"I'm ecstatic. To play that well against the No. 3 team in the state ... they're just great athletes."

Dice and Jenkins will face Whitman's Nicole Gottret and Christine Davis in today's semifinals at 10 a.m. Gottret and Davis upset No. 2-seeded Taylor McWilliams and Emily McWilliams of Cambridge-South Dorchester in the quarterfinals.

In Dice and Jenkins' first match, they dropped an early break to fall behind to Dulaney's Molly Blauvelt and Alexandre Handzo 3-1 in the first set, then won 12 of the next 16 games -- including 6 of 8 Dulaney service games -- to roll to a 7-5, 6-2 victory.

"We came out timid. We weren't hitting the ball the way we usually do," Dice said. "But we got it together and pulled through."

Dice and Jenkins are the first girls doubles team from Clear Spring to reach the state semifinals. In 1981, North Hagerstown's Sarah Reusing and Grace Reusing won Washington County's only state title in girls doubles.

The county's last state champions were the Hubs' mixed doubles team of Kelly Moler and Zach Tran in 1993. North's Steve Miguel won the boys singles title in 1985, completing the county's history of state champs.

North Hagerstown's mixed doubles team of junior Andreas Grahn and sophomore Laura Wagner ran into a buzzsaw in the form of defending state champions Aaron Hoffman and Sarah Macy of Whitman, who rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 victory that in no way diminished the Hubs duo's feat of making it to states.

"They were a little bit tentative at first, then they got better. They were able to get in some rallies and win some points," Hubs coach Pete Grunberg said. "Now they know they can get in rallies with that kind of competition.

"They played the top two teams in the state," Grunberg said. Grahn and Wagner lost to Middletown's Tommy Maerz and Emily Maerz 6-0, 6-0 in last weekend's Region 1 championships, and the Maerzes are seeded second at states.

Hoffman and Macy hardly ever missed a shot, and Macy hit the ball harder and cleaner, both on her serves and groundstrokes, than many of the boys playing.

"Her serve was probably as hard or harder than the guy's," said Wagner, who wound up being the target for many of Macy's bombs. "She's really strong. That's all part of the strategy. If we could hit it that hard and they had a weaker player, we'd do the same thing."

"It was nice having the support of our classmates, coaches and parents," Grahn said. "It's been a fun ride."

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