April 12, 2006 - After a year of beating up on each other, the focus will turn northward as Tucson tennis looks to assault the traditional powerhouses of Phoenix. Catalina Foothills and Mountain View high schools are among three teams who, along with Salpointe Catholic High School, have found themselves ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions throughout the season.
Foothills and Mountain View have since relinquished their spots atop their respective divisions - both by mere points - but that hasn't dissuaded state title hopes for either squad. Even Salpointe, despite its season-long dominance, holds a slight percentage point edge over its next closest opponent, Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School.
Tucson tennis has long been regarded as inferior to Phoenix, but that may change this year.
"We're holding our own against Phoenix," Catalina Foothills head coach Robb Salant said about his defending state champion Falcons. "We have been the last couple of years."
Tucson went 14 years without a Class 5A state title before Salpointe won it all in 2004. Southern Arizona boys have fared much better in the Class 4A, winning seven of the last 10 state championships - five by Rincon/University High School and two, including last year, for Catalina Foothills High School.
Even with the dominance in 4A, tennis in Tucson is rarely viewed on the same plane as Phoenix schools. After Salpointe at No. 1, the next Southern Arizona school in the Class 5A Division I is Sierra Vista Buena High School at No. 12.
"It's sort of 'We're the poor step-sister of Phoenix' in many ways," said Mountain View High School head coach Bill Carson.
Carson is using his squad's bump from No. 1 in the Class 5A Division II as a motivator, playing up the disrespect angle, said the coach, who has 13 years experience at the helm of Mountain Lion boys tennis.
This is the first year the Arizona Interscholastic Association has divided both the Class 5A and the 4A into two separate divisions. Because of the divide, once Mountain View is in the state playoffs, the Mountain Lions won't have to face the likes of Salpointe, Mountain Pointe High School and Brophy College Prep.
The split of the divisions will benefit teams like Mountain View the most. The Mountain Lions would likely finish somewhere between No. 8 and 10 if the divisions were still united, said Carson
Carson's squad has finished its season 13-3 for the second straight year. Last spring, the Mountain Lions were bumped from the state playoffs in the second round by Mountain Ridge High School.
Although they've only spent 10 days as No. 1 in the 5A DII, Mountain View is confident come tourney time, having dropped no lower than No. 3, throughout the season. The Mountain Lions three losses on the year have come on the racquets of Salpointe, twice, and Foothills.
Despite losing to the Lancers on March 30 at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club, Mountain View dropped in the rankings, falling behind Phoenix's North Canyon High School and Scottsdale's Desert Mountain High School.
The Mountain Lions are led by Nolan Alexander. The senior's three losses on the season (12-3) also have come from Salpointe and Catalina Foothills. Complimenting Alexander is senior transfer Harrison Roberts and the brother-duo of Ryan and Matt Sauerman.
As good as the Mountain Lions have been individually, the team's strength may lie in its doubles play. The pinnacle of the season came March 23 against Tucson High when the Mountain Lions fell behind 4-2 to the Badgers. Needing a sweep in doubles to win, Mountain View was able to dispose of Tucson to earn the win.
Foothills returns the same squad that won the Class 4A state title last season, minus sophomore Tom Wolf, who is academically ineligible as of April 6. Stepping up in Wolf's absence are freshman Mike Tringali and senior Will Gaughan in the No. 5 and 6 slots respectively.
"If everyone stays eligible, we should have a good chance of winning it again," said Foothills head coach Robb Salant.
Last year, the Falcons cruised to its ninth overall state title and first since 1997. This year, Joseph Goldstein is one of two seniors on the Falcons' squad. The next closest team to Foothills from the Class 4A out of Southern Arizona is Sonoran Region front-runners Ironwood Ridge High School (9-3).
Both the Falcons and Mountain Lions are happy not to face Salpointe in the state tourney.
"I would venture to say the strongest team in the league is Salpointe and maybe the second strongest is Salpointe's JV team," said Carson.
The Class 5A state tournament will start April 17 with Mountain View likely earning a first-round home game. Also staying home for the first round will be the Falcons when the Class 4A tennis tourney begins a week later on April 24.