Rubio, Lopez-Ixta punch tickets to state tennis finals
A little over a year ago, Saul Rubio and Joaquin Lopez-Ixta had never played organized tennis on a high school team. Fifteen months later, the senior duo will represent the Woodburn Bulldogs at the 4A/3A/2A/1A State Tennis Championship.
In fact, the two hitting partners had never played a doubles game together prior to last week when the Bulldogs concluded the regular season with the 4A Special District 2 championship at Madras and Salem.
"They didn't know the rules," head coach Tom Lonergan said. "They didn't play their first match of doubles until districts."
But what they lacked in experience, they made up for with athleticism and chemistry. The two marched their way to the district semifinals to qualify for the 2022 state tournament before ultimately bowing out with a pair of losses in their final day.
"They have skills," Lonergan said. "I think if our guys were playing doubles all year, they would be the best team."
Lonergan recalls the first time he met Rubio and Lopez-Ixta. The Woodburn coach saw them frequently at the Settlemier Park courts while training with Jonathan Swenson in the spring of 2021.
They had never played any high school sports but played tennis together practically every day at the park. After confirming that they were Woodburn High School students, Lonergan urged them to join the team.
"They were kind of apprehensive, because they're both really good students," Lonergan said. "One has a full ride to the University of Portland, the other one almost has a full ride to Oregon State. So they're really into scholastics."
Those commitments often kept them from regular practices with the rest of the team, but Lonergan knew they would make up for it at Settlemier. When it came time to submit players for this year's district tournament, the Woodburn coach knew that the singles bracket would be a tough draw, but Rubio and Lopez-Ixta had the talent to pull off a few upsets in the doubles brackets.
They responded in kind, opening the district tournament with a sound 6-1, 6-0 win over North Marion's Alex Urena Castaneda and Manuel Camacho. The Woodburn duo scored another victory, beating Estacada's top-ranked team of David Torrescano and Bryan Reyes 6-3, 6-1 to advance to the second day of districts on May 12 at the Salem Tennis & Swim Club.
Facing off against Cascade's Jaxon Haverland and Blake Perlicheck, who had knocked off the fourth-seeded team from Stayton earlier in the week, Rubio and Lopez-Ixta calmly put together a 6-1, 6-4 victory to advance to the semifinals and secure a bid to the state tournament.
Their streak of wins ended there, falling 6-3, 6-2 to the top-seeded eventual district champions Austin Thatcher and Isaac Schnepp of Cascade. The pair fell 6-0, 6-0 to second-seed Theodore Benbow and Noah Aynes of Philomath, but Lonergan is convinced the pair could be a formidable duo if they continue to play after high school.
"I'd like to see them continue playing tennis," he said. "They're just scratching their ability, because they've only been playing organized tennis for a year and a half."
How well they'll do at this year's state championship remains to be seen, but the Woodburn coach expects they'll be a tough out for anyone who sees them.
"They're both fundamentally sound, they both have good serves, they're both quick," Lonergan said. "It's been a real pleasant surprise."
Elsewhere for the boys, sophomore Ricardo Rojas advanced to the third round of competition with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Madras sophomore Theo Miller before ultimately falling to district runner-up Dawson Beckstead. Overall, the Woodburn boys finished in a three-way tie for fourth place with eight points, behind league champion Cascade (33), Philomath (32), Molalla (22) and North Marion (10).
Led by junior Cassidy Garibaldo, the Woodburn girls tennis team finished eighth in the standings at the district tournament with eight points.
Garibaldo advanced to the singles quarterfinals before falling to eventual district champion Bailey Bell of Philomath 6-0, 6-0. The Woodburn junior opened the week with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Stayton's Audrey Ritchie and followed with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against Cascade's Kyra Arneson.
On the doubles side, teammates Quetzalli Carlos and Tonalli Carlos won their opening match 6-4, 6-1 against Molalla's Kelsee Smith and Lilly Nauta. The Woodburn teammates went on to fall 6-1, 6-6 (7) to Madras seniors Natalie Ramos and Lorena Macias in the third round.
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