PCHS girls’ tennis clinches back-to-back state titles
October 11, 2016
What started with a loss turned into something nearly perfect for the Park City High School girls' tennis team this year. After falling to Olympus — the three-time defending 4A state champion — in a tightly-contested season-opening match, the Miners went on to win their next 12 regular-season matchups, which included a dominant run at the Region 10 championship.
This momentum carried into last week's UHSAA 3A state championships, where Park City saw each of its qualifying singles and doubles units advance to the finals on Day 2. Led by individual championships from Gabby Rockwood and Taylor Matz, as well as a winning effort from the No. 1 doubles pair of Julianna Signor and Brooklyn Thompson, the Miners ran away with the 3A crown with 26 points out of a possible 30, doubling the score of the second-place finisher, Ridgeline.
With the win, Park City, which was honored at halftime of the football game against Ridgeline on Friday, becomes back-to-back 3A champions and winner of three of the last four state titles. However, with a dominant run since that first and only loss of the season on Aug. 9, Head Coach Heather Nicholas still was prepared for the unexpected heading into the state tournament.
"I would say we were relatively confident," Nicholas said. "Day 2 of [the] state [championships], and the nerves and the anxiety they feel when they go out, you just don’t know what's going to happen. Luckily, the other girls have those nerves and anxiety, so it's fairly even. We were feeling good."
The unpredictability of the tournament started on the final day in the No. 1 singles court. After taking home the individual state title last season as a freshman, Park City's Livi Rockwood was the player to beat in this bracket after cruising through the regular season. She made it look easy by getting to the final on Saturday by only surrendering five games in her prior three rounds combined.
But in the final matchup of the season with the No. 1 singles individual title on the line, Rockwood came across a tough opponent in Ridgeline's Naya Tillit. The Miners' sophomore clawed her way back in the first set, after going down 4-1, to win it 6-4, but had no answer for Tillit in sets two and three, falling 6-0 in each.
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Even so, Rockwood walked away as the state runner-up, which helped her team reach its collective goal of a state championship.
"She was playing a solid opponent," Nicholas said. "In the end, I was really proud of the way she handled herself. She came off the court in between the second and third set, she was very positive and feeling like she could go out and get it. The other girl just got the better of her."
Luckily, Rockwood's teammates, including her twin sister Gabby, were there to back her up. In 2015, Livi was the one who took home the gold with Gabby earning silver at the No. 2 spot. But last Friday, the roles reversed. Gabby, who's been just as dominant as her sister all season long, used a good mix of pace in order to race past another Ridgeline opponent in the final.
"Gabby did just a great job of mixing it up today," assistant coach Hunter Nicholas said Friday. "She has a pretty good diversity to her game; she can play the dice, slow things down, speed things up. That really panned out well for her in her matchups today. She's grown a lot over the last year, just mentally and maturity-wise. She has matured a lot over the last year and that showed today without a doubt."
With how dominant the singles play for Park City has been all season long, it was no surprise to see Taylor Matz defend her title on the No. 3 court by cruising in the final (6-0, 6-2) after a tough semifinal matchup that required a tiebreaker in the first set (7-6 , 6-1).
Where uncertainty was really expected was in doubles play for the Miners. Julianna Signor and Brooklyn Thompson have proved this season that, when they are motivated and clicking, they are a force to be reckoned with. Other times, like a couple weeks ago in a loss to Grantsville, they would leave the court with things to work on.
But thanks to some leadership from the older Signor, the duo pulled through with a big three-set win on the No. 1 doubles court over a much taller pair from Desert Hills.
"I felt like [on Friday], they were really engaged. They actually kind of looked like they really wanted it, which was cool to see," Heather Nicholas said. "They just bonded. The one thing that was really cool for me to see was Julianna played the role of the upperclassman and really helped Brooklyn get through that match. … I was thrilled to see them come through victorious in that match. They definitely stepped it up a level."
Finishing out the day for Park City was the second doubles team of Caleigh Lydon and Marissa Zanetti, who closed things out with a second-place finish on the No. 2 court.
It was the perfect ending to an almost-perfect season for the Miners, but they already have their eyes set on next season. With almost the entire starting lineup returning in 2017, the Park City coaching staff is preparing for the target that will surely be placed on their backs heading into the offseason.
"There's maybe some daggers coming at us. It'll be interesting to see," Heather Nicholas said.