May 10, 2006 - There was a strong sense of urgency in the air as the girls tennis team of Catalina Foothills High School came out of doubles play down 2-1 in the Class 4A state championships May 2 at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.
But it wasn't in the Falcons nature to give up, even after Chaparral High School pushed its lead to 3-1. In singles matches, the Firebirds never stood a chance as Foothills rolled to its seventh straight Class 4A state title winning 5-3.
While the girls were earning their state title, the Foothills' boys squad was busy completing the front half of the sweep of Chaparral on the same court. For the boys, their 5-0 win gave them their second consecutive state title.
"It was hard to start off with doubles first, because all of us do better with singles," said a giddy Anya Dalkin after the girls pulled out the win.
Dalkin had just won the second set of her No. 1 singles match up against Jessica Buterbaugh to draw even when word reached her to stop playing because her teammates had just clinched the state title. For Dalkin, a chance to redeem herself against Buterbaugh, who beat her and teammate Samantha Huo in doubles play, didn't matter.
"I'm just happy we won," Dalkin said.
Jina Choi sealed the win for the Falcons with a win over Jamie Nathan, joining teammates Erin McCusker, Alison Rachowiecki and Huo with singles wins.
This year's championship squad differs from the other six for head coach Kristie Stevens. Although individual singles and doubles titles eluded the Falcons, Stevens' team excelled in the team championships.
"This team is different from the respect that, three or four years ago I had strong players at No. 1 through 6, they interchangeably could have played any position out there," said an emotional Stevens fighting back tears of joy. "This team, we definitely had the depth at a different level of play. They may not have been our strongest players that won a team title but they are definitely the most focused, determined and courageous and honestly, they fought for every single point."
The road to a second consecutive state title for the boys was less bumpy. Foothills disposed of Chaparral in five straight matches winning three doubles matches and two singles.
The highlight of the boy's match up came in doubles play where Chaparral head coach Rob Mattisinko shuffled his lineup to throw off the Falcons. Mattisinko started his No. 3 doubles against Foothill's No. 1 tandem of senior Joe Goldstein and sophomore Tyler Campbell. The move was designed to give his squad a better chance to earn wins with his better players going up against Foothills' No. 2 and No. 3 doubles.
In high school tennis, six players comprise a team and are ranked by the coach from No. 1 to 6 with the No. 1 often being the team's best player.
It didn't work. Goldstein and Campbell won handily, 6-1, 6-1, as did No. 3 doubles Mike Tringali and Tom Wolff 6-2, 6-0. It took three sets, but Mattisinko's gamble backfired in the No. 2 doubles. Biafra Ahanonu and Taylor Allin disposed of 4A state singles runner-up Drake Kakar and his partner Danny Luber.
"That was huge," said Allin, a senior who will put his tennis days behind him when he enrolls at the University of Arizona in the fall. "I went in there pumped because I knew I'd be playing Kakar and that's was going to be big."
Campbell (6-3, 6-2) and Tringali (6-2, 6-0) earned Foothills its two singles matches wins, with Tringali sealing the state title.
For four of Foothills' six players state titles are all they know. The young team is laden with sophomores and seniors.
"I think they have a chance to do it again next year and the year after that," said Goldstein, one of the team's two seniors. "We've got a lot of good guys that make our team deep. I've had to be the dad these last few years."
Goldstein will relinquish his father-like responsibilities and become a freshman next year at the University of Connecticut. Husky coaches didn't give him a scholarship but did guarantee him a spot on the team and a strong chance to start.
At UConn, he'll join former Foothills' tennis star BreAnn Cheung, a close friend, who is wrapping up her freshman year this spring.
In the 4A Division individual singles tournament, Chaparral's Kakar was stopped in the finals by Ironwood Ridge High School's John Nanosky. Nanosky, the tournament's No. 1 seed, fought his way into the finals defeating Kevon O'Rear of Higley High School and Shane Foster of Sahuaro High School before meeting Kakar in the title match.