Lauren Jones had already reached a championship match once before and come away with a state title. But it didn't stop Jones from feeling like a bundle of nerves in her match against Rowland Hall's Blake Harries.
Tension came in the form of back pain. Jones' muscles and vertebrae felt all knotted up — especially after she fell behind late in the first set.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," Jones said. "I knew she wanted it really bad. She was gunning for it and she had the crowd with her."
But no amount of nervousness could stop Jones from capping off her prep tennis career with another state title. The senior rallied from 4-3 deficits in both sets to defeat Harries 6-4, 6-4 and claim a second straight 2A/1A crown in first singles.
Playing a familiar opponent helped. Jones squared off with Harries in two earlier matches — once in region play and again during the region tournament — and emerged victorious both times. She understood her tendencies and did what was needed to take control of the match.
"Since we had played twice already, I knew she was going to come up at the net," Jones said. "She's so good at the net that I have to try and get it away from her."
Harries seized leads late in each set by relying on a powerful serve. Jones countered using lobs and a good forehand to force the Rowland Hall junior to move around. That strategy took Harries out of her game long enough to give Jones an opening for end-of-set rallies.
Earning a repeat state title was exactly how she hoped to finish things out.
"It's always cool to win it the first time," Jones said. "But this one is more special because it was my last year. I'm really going to miss my team and everything. So it was special to do it one last time."
Jones' victory was marred by a controversial ruling in the final game of the second set. The judge awarded a point to St. Joseph when fans from Rowland Hall cheered before the point was over — despite repeated warnings not to do so.
The ruling put the score 30-15 in Jones' favor. Once the match ended, several Rowland Hall fans accosted the judge with yelling and cursing.
While the first singles match ended on a sour note, the second singles final offered one of the tournament's best stories.
Grand's Emily Lopez upset top-seeded Jenn Mijer of St. Joseph 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 to win the state title in second singles. It was a sweet victory for Lopez, who began playing competitive tennis as a junior.
The Red Devil senior played with nonstop energy, wearing down her opponents and forcing them into making critical mistakes.
"I just had to keep telling myself I'm just as good as they are," Lopez said. "I play one point at a time. I just play my hardest every point."
Winning a state title was the ultimate storybook ending for Lopez. When she began playing tennis last year, Lopez started out with a used racket she borrowed. She didn't even have a racket to call her own until her grandfather bought a new one for her earlier this year.
"Every time I win I say it's the racket," Lopez said.
St. Joseph and Rowland Hall tied for the team title with 17 points apiece. The title wasn't decided until Kaela Eddy and Margaret Foreman outlasted Rowland Hall's Sydney Hartsell and Madison Allred 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 for the second doubles title.