Desert Hills Lady Thunder tennis team misses 4A title by 1 point, finishes second in state

Desert Hills High School tennis players (L-R) Tia Turley, Mackenzie Telford, Mo Behymer, Lyndsi Graf, Cassie Kohler, Faith Hess, and Averee Beck, pose with runner-up trophy following state 4A tournament, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Desert Hills High School Tennis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — By the closest of possible margins, the Desert Hills High School girls tennis team fell short of the 4A state title Saturday, finishing in a second-place tie with Park City High School, the reigning four-time champions.

Desert Hills High School doubles tennis players (L-R) Lyndsi Graf, Averee Beck, Cassidy Kohler and Faith Hess pose with runner-up trophy following state 4A tournament, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of DHHS Tennis, St. George News

Both Desert Hills and Park City finished with 16 team points in the two-day tournament at Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park, while Cache County’s Ridgeline High School won the state 4A title with 17 points.

The Lady Thunder had gone undefeated on the tournament’s first day Thursday, advancing its players to the semifinals in all five brackets and taking an early overall lead.

Read more: Desert Hills Lady Thunder undefeated after day 1 of state 4A tennis tournament

“We played well going into Saturday’s matches,” said Desert Hills head coach Dave Smith. “Unfortunately, we also had three players fighting some bad colds and fevers coming off Thursday’s matches.”

In particular, Smith said Faith Hess had a high temperature Friday night as the Thunder’s top doubles team faced a competitive Logan team in their semifinal match. Hess, along with partner Cassie Kohler, a newcomer to the state tournament, came out flat and with predictable butterflies, their coach said.

“I have to hand it to Faith for her desire to play despite her head pounding,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of (Kohler and Hess) for fighting until the end.”

The pair lost their semifinal match in two close sets to the eventual first doubles champions, Heather Roskelley and Annie Spach of Logan High School, 6-2, 6-4.

Desert Hills’ semifinal loss in No. 1 doubles was offset by superb play by sophomore Mackenzie Telford at the number two singles spot. Telford dispatched Ridgeline High School’s Lucy Lyons 6-1, 6-2, in her semifinal.

Second singles player Mackenzie Telford of Desert Hills High School serves during state 4A tournament, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of DHHS Tennis, St. George News

“Kenzie played some of her best tennis against Lyons,” Smith said of his diminutive singles player, who weighs about 85 pounds.

In the No. 2 singles final, however, Telford fell to three-time state champion Gabby Rockwood of Park City, 6-2, 6-1. At that point, Smith said, Desert Hills still had three matches to go, but things were not looking good for the Lady Thunder in their quest to dethrone Park City.

Up next was the Thunder’s No. 1 singles player, Mo Behymer, who went up against Park City senior Livi Rockwood, Gabby Rockwood’s twin sister, in the semifinals. Livi Rockwood took out Behymer in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0.

“I’m so proud of Mo for her entire season, but especially fighting though being sick this whole week,” Smith said of his top player.

In the other semifinal match in No. 1 singles, Pine View High School freshman Taylor Parsley went up against junior Naya Tillitt of Ridgeline, with Tillitt advancing to the final with a 6-0, 6-0 sweep. In the ensuing finals match that ended up helping clinch the team championship for Ridgeline, Tillitt then defeated Livi Rockwood in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1.

In the semifinals of the No. 3 singles bracket, Desert Hills sophomore Tia Turley found herself in a dogfight against Park City’s Brooklyn Thompson. Turley fell behind early, losing the first set 6-3, but clawed her back to win the second set, 6-4. Thompson then stormed ahead in the final set, knocking off Turley, 6-2.

“Again, how proud I am of Tia,” Smith said after the match. “She has come from behind in so many matches this year, earning the team’s best record at 27-2, but Park City’s Thompson played an incredible final set to take another potential two points from our team.”

Desert Hills High doubles tennis players Lyndsi Graf and Averee Beck compete in state 4A tournament, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of DHHS Tennis, St. George News

The Thunder’s final match of the day Saturday featured Desert Hills’ second doubles team, with veteran star Lyndsi Graf, the only senior on Desert Hills’ state contingent, teaming up with freshman Averee Beck. Earlier Saturday, the duo struggled to make it past Orem High School’s Gabby Bailey and Abby Dunn in their semifinal showdown. After losing the first set 3-6 and going down a break of serve in the second set, 3-4, the Thunder duo suddenly came alive and pulled out the second set, 7-5. Graf and Beck then rode that momentum to a 6-0 third-set victory.

The win over Orem advanced Graf and Beck to the finals, where they faced the talented Salem Hills High School duo of Meg Weeks and Leah DeHart. At that point, as all the other matches had already concluded, it was determined that Ridgeline had already clinched the first-place trophy, Smith said. However, Graf and Beck’s important gold-medal match would determine whether the Lady Thunder would take home a runner-up trophy by tying for second with Park City, or would have to settle for third place overall.

In the tension-filled final match, Salem Hills’ Weeks and DeHart jumped out to a first-set win, 6-3. Down 2-3 in the second set, Graf and Beck had their backs against the wall once again, their coach said.

“Yet, just as they had done in their semifinals, they fought back,” Smith added, noting that Graf and Beck won the second set, 6-4, setting up a nail-biting third set to determine if Desert Hills would go home with any hardware.

“The final set went back and forth with four consecutive breaks of serve,” Smith recounted. “At 2-3, Beck held serve to push the match to 3-all.”

The Thunder then continued the momentum, going up 5-3, but Salem Hills didn’t back down, holding their own serve to move the set to a pivotal 5-4 game, with Graf serving for the match and the runner-up team trophy.

“The game went to deuce, but then Beck closed off a difficult volley exchange at the net, setting up match point,” Smith said. “For the title, Graf served another tough serve, setting up Beck who again drilled the winning volley between the Salem Hills team.”

After the emotional win, the Desert Hills players mobbed their winning teammates.

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“Just like last year, it was Lyndsi Graf paired with a freshman, (Tia Turley, last year), who came storming back after losing the first set in the finals,” Smith recalled. “Graf, our co-captain, has been faced with unbelievable pressure these past two years. And she once again rose to the occasion.”

Smith also had plenty of praise for freshman Beck.

“Averee also stepped up when the stress of the match was at its peak, hitting three amazing down-the-line winners to gain the momentum, followed by the winning volleys that had to have been loaded with pressure,” Smith said. “For a freshman, and again, like Tia Turley did last year when paired with Graf, Averee really rose to the situation, hitting some of her best shots when it mattered most.”

Desert Hills co-captain Lyndsi Graf gives Tia Turley a consoling hug after Turley’s semifinal loss at state 4A tournament, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of DHHS Tennis, St. George News

“Sure, we wanted to win it all this year,” Smith said after the awards ceremony. “There were tears of both heartache as well as joy. I’m so happy for Lyndsi in winning her second state gold medal in doubles and her partner Averee … also, for Mackenzie’s runner-up at second singles.”

I believe we moved from the outside looking in, to one of the prolific teams being watched by the others.

Smith said the state 4A runner-up trophy will soon take its place in the school’s trophy case, along with to the other five trophies the Lady Thunder accumulated this season, including their fourth consecutive Region 9 championship, two Stephen Wade Invitational championships, and two other runner-up finishes in other invitational events, both times losing to reigning 6A state champions Lone Peak in the finals, which marked the Thunder’s only team losses during the season.

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