Molalla's Lam, Cox place second at tennis districts
Molalla teammates Joshua Lam and Caden Cox would not be denied at the Salem Tennis & Swim Club on Friday. Advancing to the third day of competition at the 2022 4A Special District 2 tennis championship, the pair overcame an early deficit to rally for a two-and-a-half hour victory in the semifinals before ultimately succumbing in the title match.
Not bad for a doubles team that never practiced on an actual tennis court this season due to inclement weather.
"We haven't had courts all season," Molalla head coach Laurel Roses said. "All of our practices have been in the gym, so these guys don't have any sense of court depth and width or how to switch."
"In those circumstances, with no home matches, no fans to cheer them on, for them to be this good — I wonder how good they'd be if they had courts and could practice every day and really work on strategy."
The pair's second-place finish at districts helped push the Molalla boys tennis team to a third-place finish at the tournament, scoring 22 points to place behind district champion Cascade (33) and runner-up Philomath (32).
The junior-sophomore duo will have one more chance to see how good they can be as the Indians' lone representatives at the state championship tournament at Oregon State University on May 20-21.
Lam and Cox had already punched their ticket Friday morning when they dropped their opening set to 2-seeds Theodore Benbow and Noah Aynes of Philomath by a 6-1 margin.
"Honestly, I didn't think we had a chance," Lam said.
After securing a bid to state with an exciting 7-5, 6-4 victory over Cascade's Kellen Sande and Jacob Hage, it would have been easy for the third-seeded Lam and Cox to save their strength and concede an eventual loss to a higher-ranked opponent.
"Then our team captain went out and gave them the most motivational speech I have ever heard," Roses recalled. "Play the game that got you here in the first place. Have fun and just be your intense and inscrutable selves."
The pair responded with a 6-4 victory in the second set to tie the game, sending it to a decisive third set. The final set was close throughout with Lam and Cox never able to establish any momentum against Benbow and Aynes, and vice versa. Every time one team would go up by a point, the other would rally to tie it. After 12 games, the teams were tied 6-6 and were forced to play a 7-point tiebreaker to determine who would go on to face top-seeded Austin Thatcher and Issac Schnepp of Cascade in the finals.
As in the previous set, neither team could put any distance between each other until Molalla won consecutive points go up 5-3. Lam and Cox kept Philomath at just enough distance for Cox to slam home the game-winning point, capitalizing on the lob-and-slam strategy that helped spur the comeback 90 minutes earlier.
"The lob is the great equalizer. If you're playing people that you're better than you, you lob," Roses said. "They just started playing their game instead of being cautious and afraid to smash at the net."
Following a moment to celebrate, Lam and Cox had just half an hour to prepare for their finals match, a difficult turnaround after spending the last 150 minutes in a high-stakes semifinal. Having won their semifinal by a 6-3, 6-2 margin, Thatcher and Schnepp had the benefit of an additional hour of rest, and showed it with a 7-5, 6-6(7) win in the championship match.
The Molalla teammates opened with a 2-1 advantage in the first set, but Cascade rallied to win three straight and take a 4-2 lead. Lam and Cox reeled off three straight wins of their own to retake the lead 5-4, but Thatcher and Schnepp tied it up and added two more wins to pick up the first victory.
Lam and Cox again opened with a win in the second set, but Cascade responded by winning four of the next five to go up 4-2 a second time. Molalla returned the favor, tying the game at 5-5, and the two teams traded games to make it 6-6, forcing Lam and Cox into a 7-point tiebreaker for the second time that day. The Indians took a 3-2 lead in the tiebreaker, but Thatcher and Schnepp strung together four straight points, setting the stage for a 7-4 victory to secure the district championship.
"Honestly I'm not mad about that second game," Lam said. "We played our heart out. I honestly thought that they were going to wreck us, but we put up a fight. We can't do much more than that when we're both gassed."
"They went in as the 3-seed, for them to make it to the championship bracket to begin with just take guts and determination and just not wanting for it to end," Roses said.
Overall, the Molalla boys doubles teams had a strong showing over the tournament. Teammates Jaime Ortego and Nicolas Olgoso won their first two matches of the tournament to advance to the quarterfinals before falling to Thatcher and Schnepp. Partners Sennett Grassl and Dakota Burke likewise won their first two matches before falling to Benbow and Aynes in the quarterfinals.
In singles play, Martin Ruiz beat Sisters' Matthew Riehle to advance to the second round of competition. Sophomore Allen Simental won an 8-2 match over North Marion's Andy Sanchez Alvarado and followed with a 6-0, 6-1 victory against Jesus Leon of Woodburn before ultimately falling in the third round.
The Molalla girls team scored 14 points to tie with Estacada and Sisters for third place. Philomath (30) won the district title, followed by runner-up Cascade (20).
Senior Ansley Nix advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Stayton's Kadence Kuiken, followed by a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Cascade's Marie Tarrab. Nix eventually fell to Philomath's Adele Beckstead 6-1, 6-1.
In doubles play, seniors Chloe Norgren and Kenzie Clonkey advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Estacada in their opening match, followed by a 6-3, 6-2 victory against North Marion in the third round.
2022 4A Special District 2 team scores
Friday, May 13 at the Salem Tennis & Swim Club
North Marion 10
North Marion 2
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