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Highland wins boys tennis state title behind play of Thomas, Fenton, Gerhardt

Monday, May. 19 | By Jeff Malmgren
Highland won the VISAA Division II boys tennis state championship Saturday. --Courtesy photo
It was like the Highland Hawks had a No. 1³ singles player.

That’s why they won a boys tennis state championship Saturday.

With Jack Thomas as its true No. 1 player, Highland beat North Cross, 5-4, in the final of the VISAA Division II tournament at Collegiate School in Richmond. Two other Highland players were No. 1 caliber, too, and they have filled that top spot for the Hawks in the past. That trio gave Highland an enviable lineup this season.

Richard Gerhardt was Highland’s No. 1 in 2012, but he took a step down last season so newcomer Adam Fenton could take the top spot. Then Fenton took a step down at the start of this season so Thomas, a Covenant transfer, could take that No. 1 position.

So, with Thomas at No. 1, Fenton at No. 2 and Gerhardt at No. 3 this season, the Hawks amassed an 11-1 record, won the Delaney Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles, and claimed the first state championship in program history.

“It was one of those lucky years,” Highland coach Paola Riccetti said of her deeply talented roster. “I knew I had the two top players in the whole [conference] and probably the state.

“Gerhardt has been an incredible player too,” she said. “And I’ve got some incredible athletes to fill out the bottom spots.”

The state final Saturday was decided in the last match, a No. 3 doubles match played with the overall dual tied, 4-4. Gerhardt and Tim Bartz combined to beat North Cross’ Miguel Garcia and Nishant Jha, 10-5.

“It was intense,” Riccetti said. “There was a lot of screaming and cheering. It was exciting but, for me, I was kind of anxious.”

Gerhardt and Bartz trailed, 2-1 and 3-2, before tying the match, 4-4, and then taking the lead en route to a five-point victory that clinched the overall state title for Highland.

“They pulled it off,” Riccetti said of the Hawks. “I was so happy for them.”

In singles play, Thomas defeated Joseph Cartledge, 10-4, at No. 1, Fenton beat Michael Fleming, 10-4, at No. 2 and Tim Bartz defeated Nishant Jha, 10-2, at No. 6. North Cross, however, tied the dual with wins at No. 3 (Miguel Garcia over Gerhardt, 10-6), No. 4 (Jack Fishwick over Ward Van de Water, 10-3), No. 5 (Zander Theoharis over Hampton Massie, 10-5).

Top-seeded Highland and No. 2 North Cross also split the first two doubles matches with the Hawks’ No. 1 team of Thomas and Fenton defeating Cartledge and Thoeharis, 10-3. Fleming and Fishwick won the No. 2 match, 10-0, over Van de Water and Travis Stolterfoht, who played in place of Massie, who fell ill.

Highland’s victory Saturday also broke a streak of six consecutive D-II state championships won by Covenant. Last season, the Hawks lost in the state semifinals to Covenant, which went on to win the D-II title with Thomas as its No. 1 singles player.

In fact, Thomas helped Covenant win four consecutive titles before transferring to Highland for his senior season.

“He’s the man, I guess,” Riccetti said. “Jack Thomas made the difference … but last year we were strong at the top, and we were weak at the bottom. This year we were strong all the way through.”

Thomas and Fenton have been best friends for years, Riccetti said.

Thomas finished this season with a 12-0 singles record while Fenton went 11-0, Gerhardt went 10-2, Van de Water went 9-3, Hampton went 3-2 and Bartz went 11-1.

Hampton moved into the starting lineup late in the season and, as an eighth grader, will try to help Highland rebuild in 2015 following the loss of seniors Thomas (Wofford College), Fenton (Elon University) and Bartz.

“Very promising,” Riccetti said. “I’m going to have a good team next year, just not like this.

“They were a true team,” she said. “The chemistry was unbelievable. I think that makes a difference.”

Highland falls in girls lacrosse state semifinals

Foxcroft ended the Highland Hawks’ girls lacrosse season Friday in the semifinals of the VISAA Division II state tournament at Collegiate School in Richmond.

The fourth-seeded Hawks lost, 10-6, to finished the season with an 8-5 record while No. 1 Foxcroft went on to win the state title Saturday over Norfolk Collegiate, 18-13.

Highland played without standout senior Jessica Crew, who sat out with an illness.

“Despite that, our girls stepped up to the challenge and played amazingly,” Hawks coach Kristen Conques said. “It was a heck of a game.”

Top-seeded Foxcroft had previously beaten No. 4 Highland three times this season and averaged 17.7 goals per game in those contests (19-9, 14-8, 20-5). The Hawks played much better defensively Friday.

“We held our defense and Emma [Walsh] had some amazing saves,” Conques said. “We did great on offense with controlling the clock, but needed to get the draw controls more than we did.”

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