Despite frequent threats of rain early on, and two short delays punctuating the proceedings, things went much as expected in the early rounds of the 5A state tennis tournament at Liberty Park on Friday.
Tournament front-runners Brighton, Lone Peak and Bingham all sent four spots through to the semifinals, leaving Brighton and Lone Peak tied at the top with nine points apiece and Bingham right behind with eight.
Hillcrest has also made an excellent showing so far, sending through three spots for a total of seven points. The Huskies only had four total points last year at state.
Not surprisingly, all of Brighton's and Lone Peak's singles players made it through to the semifinals unscathed, with the biggest battle coming between Lone Peak's No. 3 singles player, Jon Nilson, and his quarterfinals opponent, Hunter's Dominic Ek. Nilson, easily one of the tournament's most vocal players, perpetually used his energy to psych himself up between points.
"He's the energizer bunny," Lone Peak coach John LaCognata said. "He just goes and goes and goes. He brings a lot of enthusiasm to the court."
Region 2's excellent doubles teams from Skyline (Ben Tasavec and Dennie Clark at No. 1, Evan Bonar and Luke Shunk at No. 2) and Hillcrest (Zach Dastrup and Jeff Oviatt at No. 1, Brett Hashimoto and Jamison Meiling at No. 2) both advanced, as did Bingham's still undefeated doubles teams (Jeff Peterson and Steven Balls at No. 1, Alex Dial and Troy Winder at No. 2).
Lone Peak and Brighton both matched up in the other two incredibly hard-fought quarterfinals doubles matches. Both Brighton teams came into the tourney ranked third in Region 2, while both of Lone Peak's doubles teams came in ranked first in Region 4. The result was two early-round matches that will heavily impact the final point tally tomorrow.
The two teams split, with Lone Peak's No. 1 doubles team of Mike Nielsen and Clark Sheffield defeating Brighton's Sky Grahn and Derek Egan, while Brighton's No. 2 doubles team of Spencer Nielsen and Alex Cannon came from behind to take the last two matches and defeat Lone Peak's tandem of Austin Hansen and Alex Hansen. According to Brighton head coach Natalie Aposhian, winning one of those two matches was essential.
"That match was huge," Aposhian said. "We knew meeting them this early would have some impact."
The focus will shift back to the singles today, where Lone Peak or Bingham will have to pull off some upsets to keep Brighton from winning its third straight state title. Brighton's singles players include defending state champions Spencer Smith (No. 1) and Corbin Benson (No. 2), and freshman Grant Taylor (No. 3), who has yet to lose a point in this tournament.
"I expect performances like that from him (Taylor)," Aposhian said. "He's an amazing player. You'll see great things from him."
"Brighton's singles are pretty well-stacked," LaCognata said. "We're going to just take it one match at a time."
The tournament continues with the semifinals and finals this morning starting at 9 a.m. at Liberty Park.