By Monty Campbell
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – Some things inevitably change, yet some things remain the same. That was this year's theme at the District 16-4A tennis tournament at the Bulldawg Tennis Complex. The Midway Panthers and Pantherettes dominated play, winning all five brackets, while claiming the boys' and girls' district tennis championships with 22 and 20 points, respectively.
As was the case in the team-tennis portion of the season in the fall, Copperas Cove finished as the runner-up with 16 points for the boys and 10 points for the girls. Brownwood finished third, in both boys and girls divisions with seven and eight points.
Although his team did not win the district title, Copperas Cove head coach Paul Talbett will be sending 12 of 16 players to the Region II-4A Tennis Championships at the University of North Texas on April 25-26, either as alternates or direct representatives from the district.
The high number of regional qualifiers marks the most players from a Bulldawg tennis team to make it to the regional championships in school history.
"We were hoping to have as many people get the chance to play in a playback for a chance at the regional tournament and we did that, earning playbacks in four of the five brackets," Talbett said. "We lost some tight matches, but played very well today, with more composure than we showed yesterday. Both of our boys entries played well in the final, but Midway played a little better."
Chris Niswonger led the Bulldawg charge to regionals by placing second in boys singles. After breezing through Brownwood's Ryan Barkley and Midway's Hunter Harrell, without losing a game Thursday, Niswonger ran into the No. 1 seed from Midway, Frankie Allinson, in the championship match Friday afternoon.
Although Allison defeated Niswonger in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, Niswonger rebounded by defeating teammate Mats Lueer, 6-2, 6-3, in a playback match for second place and a trip to play at the regionals.
"This means the world to me, in my senior year," Niswonger said. "Hopefully, I will improve some and make it to state. Not many people can say they are going to the regional tournament."
Joining him as participants in Denton are the boys' doubles team of Zack Bengston and David Simmet, who earned they way to regionals by defeating Killeen's Sheppard and San Nicolas, 6-2, 6-0 ,and Midway's Waltrip and Coombs, 6-2, 6-2, Thursday.
On Friday, the Cove duo then ran into the wall of Midway's Kilgo and Fernandez, in the championship match, losing 3-6, 2-6. Bengston and Simmet bounced back by defeating teammates Tevin Ogo and Jordan Kingery 6-2, 6-4, in the playback match for second place.
Other Copperas Cove tennis players traveling to Denton for the Region II-4A tournament as alternates by virtue of third- or fourth-place finishes are Lueer, Kingery, Ogo, Heather Pergande, Ashley Freel, Jillian Jones, Candace Walker, Dani Almli and Matt Cranfill.
Killeen High had a girls doubles team advance to regional for the first time in 10 years.
The duo of Grace Fox and Russian exchange student Galiena Rachenkova provided the biggest upset of the tournament Thursday as they knocked off the No. 2-seeded team from Copperas Cove, Tina Thai and Dana Whitt, in the first round 6-3, 6-4. Fox and Rachenkova continued their stellar play by defeating Amos and Becker of Midway 6-2, 6-1, completing their first day's action.
Friday began rough for the Lady Roo pair as they dropped the championship match to Midway's Allinson and Myers 6-7 (6), 1-6, but bounced back to defeat Cove's Jones and Walker in the playback match 6-2, 7-6 (5), finishing in second place.
"Ten years ago, former Killeen coach Trevino and her partner advanced to regionals, and these girls are the next to do it," KHS coach Gary Hurst said. "These girls (Fox and Rachenkova) put the work in to reach regionals and now they are there. We will use this regional trip to build towards next season, showing that hard work will pay off."
Contact Monty Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 547-9173.