Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher’s second ranked boy’s tennis team went 5-0 to finish first in its own tourney during 2019. Members of the team, from left, were head coach Chris Cook, Talon Brown, Amon Hatch, Brandon Udall, Tyler Bierman, Michael Greer, Grant Richardson, Aaron Hatch, and Carson Turley. All returned for 2020.
By Raymundo Frasquillo
THATCHER – Although one does everything necessary to reach an attainable goal, nothing in life is guaranteed. Unexpected things happen for a reason and often times it is considerably later before we figure out why.
The eight-member Thatcher 2020 boy’s tennis team was denied a championship run through no fault of their own. A global health crisis caused the cancelation of the recent season.
Although the Eagles got in three matches before the season was paused and eventually canceled, they competed in a dominating fashion, going 17-1 in singles and 9-0 in doubles. They went 3-0, blanking both Safford 9-0 (March 2) and Duncan 9-0 (March 3), and topping Willcox 8-1 (March 11).
Besides missing out on having seven additional section opponent pairings, with Pima and Benson (twice each), Safford, Willcox, and Morenci, the Eagles were also slated to face Nogales, Miami, Tucson’s The Gregory School as well as participate in the Chandler Prep Tourney and one hosted by Chandler Hamilton.
“Our goal was to get pushed and ready for state,” 12th-year Thatcher head Coach Chris Cook said.
It was the same squad, Class of 2020 members Tyler Bierman, Aaron and Amon Hatch, Grant Richardson, Brandon Udall, along with 2021 members Talon Brown, Michael Greer, and Carson Turley, that ended 2019 as Division III state runners-up to Scottsdale Prep by a 4-5 score.
In individual state tourney play, second-seeded Greer – Bierman succumbed in two sets (3-6, 4-6) to No. 4 ranked Scottsdale Christian freshman Ntal Richardson – senior Josue Cortez in the final and Aaron Hatch – Udall fell in two sets (3-6, 1-6) to top seed Phoenix Country Day School sophomore Eric Emami – senior Bobby Wendt in the second round during doubles pairings, and Richardson bowed out in the quarterfinals (0-6, 1-6) to The Gregory School junior Wilder Cooke in singles.
Greer – Bierman drew a first-round bye, eliminated Scottsdale Prep seniors Avinash Vikram – Aidan Bossone (6-3, 6-2) in the second round, No. 7 The Gregory School sophomore Drew Messing – junior Stryder Rodenberg (6-2 twice) in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian senior Fred Gooding – junior Drew Parker (6-2, 6-4) in the semifinals.
The Hatch – Udall duo defeated Desert Christian junior Ryan Copley – sophomore Jesse Buell (6-0, 7-6) in the first round.
Richardson (2-1) defeated Miami junior Mario Peirce (6-0, 6-1) in the first round and Flagstaff Basis School junior Winston Zeng (6-0, 6-1) in the second round before falling to Cooke.
“We had everybody back and they felt there was unfinished business,” Cook said. “This group is the most dedicated I’ve ever had. Their strength was depth. We didn’t have a dominant number one, but we were eight deep.”
As freshmen during their own tourney, some were playing around when they were supposed to be warming up for their next matches. Cook noticed and called them together.
“I don’t care if you win or lose,” he said. “I want you to work hard and do your best every time you set foot on the court. Now go out and have fun.”
The advice was given because there is limited time for warming up both physically and mentally. The predominantly youthful team members took heed, winning the 7-team 2017 Eagles invitational tourney and along with two senior members, finished out the month ranked atop the state’s 50 Division III teams.
Also as freshmen during a duel in Miami, the Eagles were trailing 2-4 after singles matches. At the time, Thatcher had a string of consecutive duel match wins on the line.
“They didn’t want to let anyone down,” Cook said. “We won all three doubles matches to win (the duel) 5-4.”
Thatcher’s graduated student-athletes went 15-1 as both freshmen and as sophomores, and 16-1 as juniors in duels. This group had to start from scratch and was prepared to make a run at the 2020 state title.
“I thought we were one of three really good teams (capable of being state champions) this season,” Cook said.
The Eagles were state finalists seven times during an eight-year span under Cook, ending as runners-up during 2009, 2010, and 2011 in 2A/3A plus champions during 2012 (19-0), 2014 (18-0), 2015 (18-0), and 2016 (18-0) in Division III.
In the same span, other individual state finalists were Brandon McMaster runner-up (2010) and champion (2011) in singles while doubles runner-ups were Brandon McMaster – Ethan Bryce (2012) plus two-time champions Nathan McMaster – Reed Goodman (2013, 2014) as well as Dallin Cook – Logan McMaster (2016, 2017).
“The nice thing about our tennis program is we have a ‘Has Been Tourney’ at the end of our summer camp,” Cook said. “It keeps former players connected to the current team members.”
The camp started with 18 participants and now draws nearly 100 from 3rd through 12th grades. One year it had four state champions as coaches. This month, the camp is scheduled to be held in two sessions, mornings and evenings, June 22-25.