Winchester Handley’s senior team official, Henry Fowler, expected to spend Tuesday mornings and afternoons watching his teammates play for the boys’ tennis title in District 4C.
He never imagined that he would be called to accept the Winner’s Cup after helping to secure the winning point.
Fowler and Neil Barrick clinched the winning doubles point as they snatched the unbeaten 5-3 judges over Rock Ridge at Shenandoah University’s Lowry Tennis Complex.
The judges (19-0) will host District 4D runners-up Blacksburg in the Quarterfinals of the Category 4 Championships on Friday at 10 a.m. at the Lowry Complex.
“That was really crazy,” Fowler said after he and Barrick beat Rock Ridge’s Kaushik Muscari and Ariane Deman 7-6 (7-3) 6-2. “I wasn’t expecting to play today, but I had to keep playing.”
The doubles runner-up capped the day which Handley coach Dan Jones described as “six and a half hours of torture.”
With the temperature burning in the low 90s, Handley coach Bart Stewart was called in multiple times to help players deal with cramps and heat.
The main reason the day went so long was Handley NR Herrington’s No. 3 singles player, who ran a 3.5-hour marathon against Muskari to get a point the judges desperately needed.
Rock Ridge, the Dallas County Champion, jumped into a big lead against the judges. First-placed Kaustav Guticonda netted a 6-0 6-2 win over GH Herrington, while 4th seed Arjun Vangala beat Barrick 6-2, 6-1 to give Phoenix a quick 2-0 lead.
No. 6 Nathan Thomas finally got the judging panel with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Sai Ivani. Leading 3-2, Thomas took a serve break and closed out the first set with three straight games.
The rest of the singles matches will be divided into three groups.
Phoenix returned to the lead by two as Deman edged Handleys Tye Dixon for fifth. Deemann rose after losing the first set 6-4 to take the last two sets 6-2, 6-0. Dixon was clearly in pain in the final set and packed into heavy pressure after the match, which led to Fowler having to play in the doubles.
No. 2 Brendan Love got the judges by a point 6-1, 6-7 (7-9), 2-0 over Samson Anavarao. Love’s aggressive game dominated the first set. He had a chance to serve the second set but Anavarao pulled off a break to send him into the tiebreak. Anavarao saved one game point as he finished the tiebreak with three consecutive points.
But during a 10-minute break between sets, Anavarao fell ill. Love won the first two matches of Group C before Anavarao retired.
When that was over, NR Herrington and Muskari had finished their second set. With the score tied at 5-5, Muscari broke Herrington and concluded the first set 7-5.
Herrington reclaimed the fight in the second set which saw a tiebreak. Leading 6-5, Herrington smashed a winner on the serve to win the tiebreak 7-5.
Both players needed Stewart in the final set as both had to take medical breaks to deal with the cramps. With the score 3-3, Herrington got a break to move on. Then he paused with a break, shouting “Let’s go” to the roar of his colleagues.
“I just tell myself, ‘There is no reason to lose,'” Herrington said of how he won. “I hate losing more than I love winning. …I just realized that I have to be aggressive. If I am not aggressive, I will never win.”
“He’s one of those guys you know he’s going to beat,” Jones said of NR Herrington. “You just wish he did that soon.
“It was a huge win for us,” Jones added. “He may not understand it, but his understanding of that point changes the momentum and everything.”
NR Herrington and Thomas gave the judges their first lead by winning third place in the doubles. After trailing 3-4 in the first set, the duo won their last three matches and dominated the final set with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Vangala and Ivani.
Herrington admits he was worried about the doubles. “I was kind of nervous I would still cramp, which I did, but I can handle it. I just realized we had to get it in two sets because if I went to three sets I didn’t know what my body would do.”
The win paved the way for Fowler and Barrick. Fowler, the regular No. 7 or 8 singles referee, showed no tension in replacing Dixon.
“A lot of it plays doubles outside of training,” Fowler said of dealing with pressure. “Two days ago, Neil, Tay, and Hum went and played doubles. At the end of the day, it’s just playing that helps.”
The Handley duo had a pressure-packed first set that went into the tiebreak. Motivated by some of Fowler’s early winners, the judges were able to make an early lead. Barrick finished the ball over his head to win 7-3 in the tiebreak.
Barrick and Fowler led 4-1 in the final set. With a 5-2 draw, Muskari and Dhiman saved four match points before a Phoenix shot ended the marathon day as the judges rushed onto the field.
“Henry Fowler gets in his first real game in this kind of situation, and that shows how important it is for our kids to train every day, so they are ready for us,” Jones said. “Henry has progressed greatly.”
Handley’s Team #1 in the doubles took a 3-6, 7-5, 5-4 lead when that match was over.
Fowler then received the trophy from Red Prosser, Handley’s director of student activities.
“That was great,” Fowler said. “Being in the top six, I never thought I’d have a moment like this.”