Warriors lock up title shot

By Tommy Keeler Jr. – tkeeler@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando’s Nik Mikus loves playing under pressure. So the freshman felt right at home during his match Thursday against Millbrook’s Christian Truong.

Mikus pulled out two tight sets to help second-seeded Sherando defeat third-seeded Millbrook, 5-0, in the Northwestern District semifinals. The Warriors will play the winner of today’s James Wood-Handley semifinal match on Monday at the higher seed. If Handley wins today, then Sherando will automatically advance to the Region II tournament. If James Wood upsets Handley, the winner of the finals would advance to regionals.

Mikus won the first set 6-3 over Truong at No. 4 singles, but trailed early in the second set. He rallied to even the set at 3-3, and the pair battled it out from there. Mikus was able to hold his composure under pressure.

“I think pressure is good for you,” Mikus said. “You have to stay focused to pull it out.”

Sherando’s girls were unable to join the boys in the district final as they fell to Skyline 5-3 in a match played at Sherando. The Hawks will play the winner of today’s James Wood-Handley girls semifinal on Monday at the higher seed.

The key match in the win for the Hawks came by Alex Zarzuela at No. 3 singles. With the Hawks leading the team score 3-2, Zarzuela pulled out a two-hour, 59-minute win over Sherando’s Katelyn Schell. Zarzuela won 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (6) and said she knew she had to be willing to take chances in the third-set tiebreak.

“My dad always tells me that a tiebreaker usually comes down to offensive play, instead of defensive play, and that’s more of my game,” Zarzuela said.

Zarzuela led 5-2 after a forehand winner early in the third-set tiebreak. Schell battled back to tie the breaker at 5-5. An unforced error gave Zarzuela a match point, but Schell then pulled out a long, grueling point to pull even at 6-6. Another forehand winner by Zarzuela gave her another match point, and when Schell’s shot went wide on the next point the Hawks had a 4-2 lead entering doubles.

Zarzuela said she knew a lot was at stake and didn’t want to let her teammates down.

“I was just thinking I don’t want to be sitting in my AP class tomorrow thinking how we didn’t win because I didn’t win my match,” Zarzuela said. “{When it was tight] I just thought, ‘Put it back in play. Just get it over the net and into the court.'”

The Hawks (6-11) clinched the win at No. 3 doubles as Lindsey Morrison and Alayna McEathron beat Sherando’s Kelly Schrader and Karen Cornejo, 6-4, 6-4.

“I’m just very proud of the team,” Skyline coach John Natalie said. “I think the girls have really improved since the beginning of the season in both singles and doubles. I think they’ve really put it all together and that’s what really made the difference.”

The match was tied 2-2 in singles, but the Hawks won two three-setters to pull ahead for good. At No. 6 singles, McEathron rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Cornejo in two hours and 20 minutes.

In the boys match, Mikus broke Truong’s serve in the final game of the one-hour, 11-minute match with a forehand winner to pull out the 6-3, 7-5 win. Mikus said he was having some trouble with his serve, but he plans to work more on that in the next few days. Mikus said when he was trailing in the second set that he knew he had to stay calm.

“You just have to take it point-by-point,” Mikus said. “And not worry about the set as a whole.”

The win by Mikus sealed the team win for the Warriors (12-5). At No. 1 singles, Trey Scott needed only 32 minutes for a 6-0, 6-0 win over Millbrook’s Justin Clemens. The Millbrook senior is the team’s No. 7 player, but was playing for Matt Cress, who missed the match due to a job interview.

Scott said he just tried to work on different aspects of his game and focus on winning the match.

“I came out expecting to play Matt [Cress],” Scott said. “I just tried to work on some things and get my game ready for [Monday].”
The loss ends the season for the Pioneers (8-8), but coach Mike Arney said he was happy with the season.

“With our young team, I feel like we did well,” Arney said. “We improved on last year’s record.”

The Warriors also have a young team, with Scott being the only senior in the top six.
Sherando has been to regionals five consecutive years, and a win by Handley today would keep the streak going for the Warriors.

The Warriors lost several top players, including current Mary Washington University player Kaleb Nguyen, from last year’s team to graduation.

“It’s definitely big,” Scott said of a possible regional berth for the Warriors. “Especially losing so many players from last year’s team, to be [12-5] and to [make regionals] would be awesome. I’m so proud of all the guys and the job they’ve done this year.”