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Juan Diego wins first state tennis title

Waterford's Larissa Beck, playing with her sister Lise, returns a serve during the 1A/2A doubles championship Saturday at BYU courts.
Waterford's Larissa Beck, playing with her sister Lise, returns a serve during the 1A/2A doubles championship Saturday at BYU courts.
Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Ayaka Kure has only been playing tennis for three months, but thanks to her prowess on the badmitton court, Juan Diego didn't have to share its first girls tennis title.

Kure and doubles partner Atalea Rainaldi defeated a determined Waterford duo, Neha Nimmagudda and Alisha Rogers, to give Juan Diego the 1A/2A state title by four points 21-17. Had Waterford's second doubles team, a fourth seed, upset Kure and Rainaldi, the teams would have tied for the title.

The team crowded around the victorious pair, hugging and wiping away tears.

"She just came out for the team this year," said an emotional Juan Diego coach Arthur Miyazaki of Kure, whose net play was outstanding in the 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 win. "That stroke was just from badmitton. We'll accept that."

Miyazaki said the key was that the school got players into every final Saturday at BYU's tennis courts.

"We had five in the finals, and Waterford had four," he said. "That was the difference. We all had talent, but we had just a little bit more depth."

The team also had something to prove after watching Waterford win it three of the last four years.

"We've always been the underdog," he said wiping away his own tears. "It's always hard to beat tradition, and Ken Wade does a great job with his team."

Times they are changing, however, as Juan Diego looks like the new muscle on the court.

"Ayaka is the only senior, and we start two freshman," he said smiling. One of those is first singles state champion Romina Nedakovic, who simply dominated at the tournament. She defeated Lauren Jones, St. Joseph's, 6-0, 6-0. She lost only one game the entire tournament and barely broke a sweat.

"I've had some really good competition in the tournament," she said as her teammates congratulated her. "Each night, I just try to think through what I want to do."

She's only been playing tennis for four years, but she practices five hours a day. She isn't just hoping for three more state titles, either.

"I'm want to become pro," said the native of Croatia. "I'm so very happy to have started off like this, with a win."

Nedakovic's teammate in third singles, Brittany Neilson extracted a bit of revenge on Waterford's Tina Haroutunian by beating her 6-4, 7-6 in the finals. Haroutunian beat Neilson in the regional tournament to come in as the No. 1 seed.

Elly Handshaw and Elizabeth Calder played the day's longest, most exciting match with Calder winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 for the state title at second singles.

It was a sister act that kept Waterford's title hopes alive with Lise Back and her little sister Larissa Beck defeating Juan Diego's Rachel Pezel and Louise Mendes, 6-4, 7-6.

"Some of our biggest fights and happiest times are on the court," said Larissa Beck. "We're really close."

Adds her sister Lise, "We can almost read each other's minds we know each other so well."

Lise Beck finished second last year in doubles with her older sister. She was a replacement player chosen just two days before the state tournament. So it was especially sweet to win it this year with her little sister. Their mother, Elizabeth Beck, said tennis has actually strengthened their bond.

"Larissa had the opportunity to try out for singles, but chose to play with her sister, and I think it has brought them closer together," she said. "It used to be they'd be in their separate rooms, but now I find them together all the time at night talking."