By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After losing his second set against Handley's Mark Sfeir, Sherando's Nickie Lee found himself in the kind of match that he thrives in. Over the last three years, Lee has been in numerous three-set battles and once again he was prepared for the marathon match.
"It was really fun," Lee said after his three-set win. "It's the kind of match where when you're playing it you just wish it would be over, but afterwards it feels good to know you were able to push through it and win."
Lee's victory gave Sherando a 5-1 win over Handley in the Northwestern District tournament boys tennis final on Friday. Handley won the girls tournament title with a 5-0 victory over Skyline in an earlier match at Millbrook. All four finalists will play in next week's Region II tournament.
Lee took the first set from Sfeir at No. 4 singles, 7-5, but lost the second set, 6-4. Lee started off strong in the third set, taking a 4-1 lead.
"After the second set, I just had to re-set my mind," Lee said. "I knew I just had to tough it out."
Sfeir battled back and eventually pulled to within 5-4. Sfeir had broken Lee's serve two consecutive times, which put even more pressure on Lee as he served for the match in the 10th game of the set.
The game went to deuce twice before Lee prevailed on an error from Sfeir, ending the 2-hour, 19-minute match.
"It was a battle of wills," Lee said. "I guess I just wanted it more. Mark played a great match. I was happy I was able to push through all the obstacles and win."
The Warriors beat the Judges twice this season, but there were a lot of close matches throughout both contests and the tournament final was no different. Sherando went up 2-1 with wins by Kaleb Nguyen (No. 1) and Trey Scott (No. 3).
Sherando's Trevor Scott rallied from an early deficit to beat Kyle Stickley, 6-4, 6-1, at No. 2 singles. The last time the two played, Stickley beat Trevor Scott and the Sherando senior admitted he wasn't feeling real confident when Stickley went up 4-1 in the first set on Friday.
"In the back of my mind I was thinking, 'What if he beats me again?'" Trevor Scott said. "After the slow start I just told myself to take a deep breath and try to get every point back. That helped me a lot."
Trevor Scott won 11 of the next 12 games to give Sherando a 3-1 lead. At No. 6 singles, two freshmen battled it out for an hour and 40 minutes. In the end it was Sherando's Chris Mikus coming up with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 win over Handley's Taylor Watts.
After splitting the first two sets, the two players took a break and Mikus said the 10 minutes in between sets helped him re-focus on what he needed to do.
"It helped me relax and catch my breath," Mikus said. "It gave me an energy boost, because I was getting really tired.
"After the second set I told myself I was going to win the third set 6-0."
Mikus seemed on his way to the bagel in the third set, as he went up 5-0. Watts won the next two games, before Mikus closed it out to give Sherando a 4-1 lead.
"Getting off to the lead was big," Mikus said. "It helped me play less conservatively and I could play more to my strengths."
There was less drama in the girls final, where the Judges won their sixth consecutive tournament title and their 15th in the last 16 years.
Handley's Sarah Moomau (No. 1), Katie Gordon (No. 2), Jessie Nolan (No. 3) and Hannah Skedsvold (No. 5) cruised to wins, giving Handley a quick 4-0 lead. At No. 6 singles, Handley's Fiona Surette cruised through the first set against Alex Zarzuela, 6-2. However, in the second set Zarzuela battled back and took a 3-0 lead.
Surette regrouped and won six consecutive games to clinch the title for Handley. Surette said she was motivated by the fear of losing.
"I was just thinking, 'I can't be the one person that loses,'" Surette said. "I think there is some pressure being on the team, you don't want to be the person that loses. I think that's definitely what helped me win."
The Judges don't suffer many losses in individual matches, especially in the post-season. The three-time defending Group AA champions have won nine consecutive postseason matches 5-0.
Handley has five seniors in the top six, making this year's tournament title a little sweeter.
"It makes it that much more special since it's your last year and you just want to make it perfect," Moomau said. "For me, it's been a really special year to win districts."
Sherando lost in the Region II final last year to Western Albemarle, who have won three consecutive Group AA boys state titles. The two teams will once again be on opposite sides of the regional bracket and could be headed for another showdown next week.
"You don't want to look ahead, but I hope that we get to the region final and we face Western Albemarle," Lee said. "We'd like a chance to get some redemption. I think it would be a lot of fun.
"We'd like to get out of regionals this year and get to states for the seniors, Trevor [Scott] and Daniel [Sottosanti]."
Handley's girls will try to win their fifth consecutive regional title, in hopes of going on to claim a fourth consecutive state championship. Gordon said she feels like the team is getting better with each match.
"I feel like each match we win, it's just like another piece in a puzzle to an amazing year," Gordon said. "We're just looking for that last piece, which hopefully is coming. We don't know what's going to happen, but we're hoping for the best."