MOAB — Led by relentless senior Emily Lopez, the Grand Red Devils jumped from a second-place finish at region to take third at the 1A/2A girls state tennis tournament.
Lopez upset Jenn Mijer of St. Joseph to win the crown in second singles and become the first girls tennis state champion in Grand's history.
"I told her, 'You're the region champ and you earned it. You deserve to be on the court. They won't give it to you, so you have to take it,'" Grand head coach Sue Anderson said.
The Red Devils had not played any of the teams from the northern region during the regular season, so they didn't know what to expect headed into state.
Led by four seniors (Lopez, Alyssa Mulligan, Dailey Harren and Sommer Stewart), they wanted to go deeper into the tournament than they had before and to leave it all on the court. The third-place finish was the highest ever for the school.
In first singles, Mulligan bowed out against eventual finalist Blake Harries from Rowland Hall. Harren made it to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Jessica Grey of Rowland Hall in third singles. The first doubles tandem of Stewart and Athena Hawk lost to St. Joseph's Erin Montgomery and Mara Davisson in a tight 6-4, 6-4 first round match, while the second doubles duo of sophomores Tailor Talbot and Britten Martin lost to eventual finalists Sydney Hartsell and Madison Allred of Rowland Hall.
As far as the scoring went for Grand, however, it was almost all Lopez.
"Once she beat the girl from Rowland Hall, we knew she (Lopez) was a good player," St. Joseph head coach Gary Griffinhagen said. "We thought our girl played great, but Lopez was just persistently getting the ball back. I was very impressed by her and her excitement."
Lopez didn't even start playing for the Red Devils until last season and didn't get her own racket to play with until her grandfather gave her one earlier this year. A three-sport athlete already, she watched a few tennis matches and thought it looked fun.
"I was already involved in a lot of sports, but I figured, what's one more?" Lopez laughed.
"She's a really good listener, and she just constantly adjusts to get shots past her opponent," coach Anderson said. "She's really exciting to watch."
As an added bonus for winning her singles title, Lopez got to ride the fire engine through town.
"It's usually only for a team winning state, but I found out on the way home that they were going to let me do it, too," Lopez said. "It was so awesome."
Even though four players are graduating, the Red Devils are still hopeful about the possibilities for next year.
"Once somebody does it, it's like, 'Hey we can come back and do it, too,'" Anderson said. "So, we just have to work and work and hope for the best."