PHOENIX — What happens when a four-year varsity tennis player teams up with a guy who had never played tennis before this season? A trip to the quarterfinals of the Division II boys tennis state tournament, of course.
Two Casa Grande Union seniors, experienced leader Caden Mace and his best friend Corbin Smith, won two matches in straight sets Friday at the Phoenix Tennis Center, advancing to the state quarterfinals Saturday at Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.
“It feels exciting,” Smith told PinalCentral after he and Mace won their second-round match. “It’s my first year out here, and I’m really proud of where me and Caden have come from and where we’re going. But tomorrow, I’ve got to play better than I did today. I came out here and I didn’t play to my full potential, but tomorrow’s gonna be different.”
In the first round, the Cougars duo beat Caden Gable and Connor Gable of Goodyear Estrella Foothills 7-5, 6-3. The Gable boys tried to lob their way to victory by taking the pace off the ball, but after a tight first set, Mace and Smith settled in and took control, with Mace finding a groove on his overhead smashes.
Mace and Smith had a long wait before their second-round match, as they were the last announced match of the day. The Cougars weren’t sharp in the first set but came on strong in the second for a 7-5, 6-2 win over David Martinez and Troy Pagone of Glendale Cactus.
One of the reasons Mace and Smith were paired together in doubles from the beginning of the season is chemistry. They’re opposites — Mace more boisterous, Smith more reserved — but they complement each other well.
“Part of it is, I’m a little bit louder, he’s a little bit quieter, but it just works,” said Mace, scarfing down a slice of free pizza after the win over Cactus.
Mace graded the duo’s performance as just “four out of 10” despite the two straight-set victories, saying there’s much that can — and will be done Saturday — to improve.
“I want to see a couple more first serves out of [Smith], a couple more volleys out of him,” Mace said. “A couple more first serves out of me, hopefully dislocate the shoulder tomorrow on some serves.”
The part about dislocating the shoulder was Mace’s way of saying he wants to let loose by hitting much more powerful first serves Saturday. During Friday’s matches, Mace — who had a shoulder injury earlier this season — said he was holding back so he would have the ability to go all-out starting in the quarterfinals.
The CG Union boys also qualified another doubles team, sophomore Brayden Hollenbach and junior Hunter Scholes. They ran into No. 5 seed Drew Hildebrand and Nate Miyata of Cave Creek Cactus Shadows in the first round and lost 6-0, 6-1.
Cougars coach Keith Marsh knew he would get Mace and Smith in the state tournament but said he was “pleasantly surprised” to get Hollenbach and Scholes to state as well. He thought they earned it with their 9-3 doubles record in the regular season.
Marsh said having state experience with both of them coming back next year is an advantage.
“I think it helps them tremendously,” he said. “They saw what they can expect and they saw that, ‘Hey, we took a game when we finally calmed down, so we can just build from that next year.’ And they have the whole season to be the No. 1 doubles (team).”
CG Union girls
CG Union was also represented in the Division II girls state tournament with one doubles team and one singles player. The Cougars had senior Merlin D’souza and junior Sorraya Wright in the doubles bracket, and junior Clara Munguia competed in the singles bracket.
D’Souza and Wright were floating on air, just happy to be competing at state when they did not expect to be playing on the biggest stage of high school tennis.
But then they went out and did something strange; they nearly won their first-round match. In a back-and-forth affair, they ultimately lost 2-6, 6-1, 3-6 to Bridget Farrell and Madeline Fay of Oro Valley Canyon del Oro.
After losing the first set, D’Souza and Wright won a lengthy first game that featured about five deuces and then locked in for an easy 6-1 win in the second set.
“I think we also had a better strategy going into the second set,” D’souza said.
Wright said they identified some weaknesses in the CDO pair’s game, specifically the forehand. They noticed one girl would just slice her forehand the majority of the time instead of stepping in for a more forceful shot.
Both were happy with the way they performed, with only minor things they would have done differently.
“Probably being a little bit more aggressive at the net ... that was something I felt like would have worked, but other than that, (we were) pretty consistent,” Wright said.
D’souza said she and Wright faced tough competition all year as the No. 1 doubles team for the Cougars.
“I’m the No. 3 player, and she’s the No. 2 player, so when we got put together, we complement each other,” D’souza said. “I know we wanted to go to state, but it was a really nice surprise to actually make it.”
Munguia had the unenviable task of taking on dynamic freshman Nola Williams of Phoenix Arcadia in the first round, and she was defeated 6-0, 6-0.
CG Union coach Denise Echeverria said Munguia had some nerves early in the match, but she was proud of her junior for making it into the 32-player singles bracket at state. And Munguia has another year left to continue improving her game.