By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
It was a bad time for Florence senior Ashee Brunson to suffer her first loss of the season. Her semifinal loss Thursday at the Region IV-2A tennis tournament at Texas State University, however, proved only a set-back, a speed bump along her quest to win a girls singles state medal.
After the top-seeded Brunson lost 7-5, 6-1 to Falfurrias' third-seeded Sophie Klier, she rebounded with back-to-back two-set wins. The last a 6-2, 6-2 playback win against East Bernard's Alyssa Noonan to finish second and qualify for the 2A state meet, May 9-10 at the World of Tennis at Lakeway. And she won't be alone.
The Florence boys doubles team of Daniel Taylor and Nick Baker easily won the regional championship to qualify for the second-straight year and the mixed doubles team of Kasey Button and Manuel Ramirez also finished second, losing to the Lexington duo that beat them in the District 27-2A championship match.
"We have five kids going to state. We went (to regionals) with seven kids, and we thought every one of them had a chance and five of them made it," said Florence tennis coach Drake Stanczak. "We're excited about having more players (qualify for state) this year. All of them have a chance to really make some noise."
Last year, Taylor and Baker, just happy to make the state tournament, lost in their first-round match and Button and Brunson, then playing together as a girls doubles team, won the 2A state title.
"They've all played in big matches. No match is too big them. They go into every one thinking they're going to win," Stanczak said. "If we're making our shots, they all feel they have a chance to win at state. They just know they have to play their best because the competition as state is so stiff."
Bunson wasn't at her best against Klier, a foreign exchange student from Germany, and struggled in her 6-1, 7-5 win against Lago Vista's Liana Polikaitais in the third-place game. But early in her play-back match against Noonan, she returned to form.
"She was disappointed (after the loss) and she was frustrated because she knew she was capable of playing better, but she also knew there was still the opportunity of playing in the play-back," Stanczak said of Bunson. "About halfway through the first set of the playback, you could see her get back into her rhythm and she was really starting to click. She was playing like the Ashee we've seen all year long."
Taylor and Baker made their trek through Region IV a quick one, making it clear how determined they are to not only make state this year, but contend for a medal.
After Taylor and Baker beat Hebronnville's Carlos Guerra and Augustus Villarreal 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinal - their closest match in the tournament - they rolled through the Industrial duo of Cole Hirschhauer and Justin Nowlin 6-2, 6-2 in the championship match.
"They just played well; they were in sync with each other," Stanczak said. "They're both playing so well that everything just clicked. It's one of those deals where everything goes right."
After a grueling, three-set, semifinal win over Industrial's Logan DeBord and Tiarra Malone (6-0, 5-7, 6-3), Button and Ramirez again found themselves cross-court of Lexington's Kaelan Blok and Mackenzie Brown.
The Lexington duo beat Button and Ramirez 7-5, 6-3 two weeks ago in the 27-2A mixed doubles championship game but had a much easier time against the Florence duo on Thursday, running away with the regional title with a 6-2, 6-0 win.
"I think for the most part, we had a really, really tough match in the semifinals … we were fatigued going into the championship," Stanczak said. "Lexington is a good team - they were a three seed and I actually voted them a one seed - I think we just ran out of gas."
Lampasas pair finishes fourth
Only one Lampasas entry reached the second day of the Region IV-3A tennis tournament, but the seven Badgers gained plenty in just making this far.
"I told them this right here was a learning experience," Lampasas head coach Kenneth Peiser said.
Juniors Zach Holcomb and Alex Morua finished fourth in boys doubles, falling to a pair from Burnet 7-5, 6-1 on Thursday at the HEB Tennis Center in Corpus Christi. The two won two matches Wednesday before falling in the semifinals. The good news for Peiser and his Badgers are most of the team returns next year, and in addition to being a year older, Lampasas will know what to expect in a region it was in for the first time this season.
The sixth-seeded Holcomb and Morua beat teams from Rockport-Fulton and Boerne - the tournament's No. 3 seed - before losing to Wharton 6-4, 6-1.
"They did well to get that far," Peiser said. "They have a good shot at coming back next year."
On Wednesday, Katie Shaw and MacKenzie Denton (girls doubles) won their opener against Devine before losing to Wimberley in the quarterfinals. Ashley Houston and Emily Bever lost their first-round match, as did Chris Monroe in boys singles.
Angel Verdejo contributed to this report.