Tournament test of nerves

By Eric Butler

There will be plenty of poker faces Friday during the seeding meeting prior to this weekend’s District 4-5A tennis tournament at the CHS tennis courts.
Trying to find the best route to the state tournament for their players — and wary of what the other teams will do with knowledge of their intentions, district coaches have been mostly tight-lipped about their plans.
Take for instance, Carlsbad junior Shawn Baker — who defeated defending 5A singles champ Alex Hagstrom of Eldorado in district play, but lost a tight match to Hobbs’ Ben Parra.
Cavemen coach Ryan Galindo thinks Baker’s best chance for a state championship will be in doubles. But what Baker will be doing when play begins around 2 p.m. on Friday is, well, officially unknown.
“Either way, Shawn’s got a good shot at winning a state title,” Galindo says. “We haven’t closed any doors. Right now, we’re still weighing our options.”
“Until the seeding meeting, and when you find out what the coaches exactly have decided to do, you’re pretty much up in the air,” said Clovis coach Billie Merritt, who has a couple of singles players in Jared Cole and Patricia Gallegos who seem to be right on the cusp of making the state tennis tournament next week in Albuquerque.
Each district will send three singles players and two doubles teams to the two-day event on Wednesday and Thursday. The team tennis competition then begins on Friday.
One major unknown this weekend is exactly what the talented and deep Hobbs’ teams will do.
Defending state girls champ Sara Baker undoubtedly will be playing singles again this weekend. And Parra, the top Eagles’ boys player, will likely also be in the singles field.
The big question mark is what Hobbs’ plans for girls doubles are. Megan Loving and Morgan Clarke have won three straight state championships, but have been playing behind the Eagles’ team of Brittany Arnold and Melinda Williams this year.
Should Hobbs coach Paul Baker choose to split up the Arnold/Williams team and have each play singles instead, the door may close quickly on others hoping to grab a second or third place behind Sara Baker.
That includes Gallegos, a Clovis sophomore. Gallegos defeated Eldorado’s Amy Baklini this year, but lost to Carlsbad’s Tiffany Graham — who Galindo says will be playing singles in the district tournament. While Gallegos will likely be seeded third, an influx of Arnold and Williams from Hobbs will make the road to state more difficult.
As for Cole, the top singles player from Clovis may benefit if Carlsbad’s Baker plays doubles. In that scenario, Cole would also likely be seeded third.
“If Jared plays his game, he’s got a chance. Patricia, I think, has a really good chance, too. She’ll be definitely going in the top four (seeds) — either as a number two or three seed,” Merritt said. “Andrea Curry also has a chance for an upset if Hobbs doesn’t do the two doubles teams. I really feel like she might be a spoiler.”