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Panthers rally to capture 3A championship

Karlie Hancock, left and Lauren Wright of Pine View High compete against Grantsville in the 3A State Tennis Tournament on Saturday.
Karlie Hancock, left and Lauren Wright of Pine View High compete against Grantsville in the 3A State Tennis Tournament on Saturday.
Jamie Warden, Spectrum

ST GEORGE — The stage was set for Grantsville's retiring head coach Don Nelson to go out on top, but Pine View's tennis team had a lot to say about re-writing the script Saturday at the State 3A tennis championships.

The Panthers did exactly that, winning all three of their championship matches - including the clincher in dramatic fashion - to take their second title in three years.

That story took top billing, but Dixie's Jessica Carter was a strong second lead. All the junior standout did was win her third consecutive state singles title with an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory over Park City's Devin Peek, and a chance for a fourth title was already on her mind.

"I've been looking forward to this match all year," an emotional Carter said afterward, adding that joining a very exclusive group of four-time titleists will soon take place in her mindset. "All year (repeating) sits in the back of your mind, and I'm sure I'll start thinking about (winning four in a row)."

Going back to center stage, in the final round, Pine View's freshman duo of Lauren Wright and Karlie Hancock defeated Grantsville's Lacey Cole and Monica Aagard 6-3, 6-3 in first doubles action, while the Panthers' second twosome of Nikki Zimmer and Christian Hale earned a state title with a straight-set victory over Judge Memorial's Annabelle Milliken and Julie Milliken.

That gave Pine View an 18-16 advantage with two matches still being settled.

Grantsville squared things up when Amanda Leonelli defeated Dixie's Nikki Anderson in a three-set thriller in the third singles competition, leaving the title hopes of both teams on the shoulders of Pine View's hard-hitting Alexis Almquist and Grantsville's steady Karleen Watson.

Watson started fast, taking the first set 6-3, but Almquist rallied to take the second set by a 7-6 margin, taking the tiebreaker 7-4.

The third set started like the first set, as Watson's steady play was taking its toll on Almquist, whose aggressive style led to many unforced errors, until Watson's lead reached 5-2.

"Lexie is the type of player that gives coaches gray hairs," Panthers' coach Dow Christenson said, adding, "she forces the action with her style of play, and it pays off when she just lets it rip."

Let it rip is exactly what Almquist did, taking the final five games for a 7-5 set victory.

"I knew it (the team competition) was close, and I lost to her at state (in the quarterfinals) last year, so I really wanted to win," Almquist said, adding that she didn't feel a sense of urgency at the end. "I just played it point by point."

Until Pine View had just enough.

Nelson was gracious in the tough defeat, pointing out that "second place is not losing, we played hard today, and I'm proud of these girls . . . I'm proud of all our girls over the years, we competed against long odds and they have done well."

Top finishers

Pine View 20

Grantsville 18

Dixie 15

Ogden 9

Judge Memorial 9