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Williamson and Ranger top podium in fourth crack at cities

Perseverance paid off for the St Charles College Cardinals tennis boys doubles team of Liam Williamson and Kevin Ranger.

Partnered together since before their days at SCC, the tandem had twice come tantalizingly close to capturing a SDSSAA banner in three previous visits to the city championships.

They would eventually break through on Thursday, though it would take surviving the closest final of the day to accomplish the feat. Williamson and Ranger edged the Lockerby Composite duo of Emmett Taillefer and Dario Beljo, in a tie-breaker, 11-10 (8-6).

"We had been close a couple of times (they twice left with silver medals), but never got the win," said Ranger. "We finally got it this year, in our last year." The difference, he suggested, was largely the experience of four trips to the SDSSAA playdowns.

"Confidence was big, knowing that we can make shots and hit these shots. When we were younger, we were very timid, not hitting the ball as hard. Now, we're getting more power, more speed on the ball, and our accuracy is a lot better."

Unlike most of the pairs teams competing at the high-school meet, this team easily pre-dated their secondary school days, first sharing volleys in their younger years at Twin Forks Playground.

"There's a couple of nets there and we just thought we would go out and try playing once, and we just fell in love with it," said Ranger. "We were twelve, maybe. Now, we have good chemistry with each other, we know each other very well, we've been practicing with each other often. That obviously helps, especially with a game like this."

By contrast, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights' mixed pairs duo of Bronwyn Mantle and Jeff Dodds had to find a way to make things work in a much more abbreviated schedule, progressing to the point of winning gold with a 10-4 victory over Melanie Cloutier and Felix Tubin of College Notre-Dame.

"We just started, together, a couple of weeks ago," noted Mantle. "He's play tennis for a while, and I picked up a racquet last year for the school tournament. I really enjoy it." And given the large gap in core tennis talent, the grade 11 multi-sport athlete has taken a very healthy approach in tapping into the base knowledge of her partner.

"He's actually helped me a lot," stated Mantle of Dodds, also in grade 11. "I'm really open to him coaching me, because he knows what he's doing, and I really don't. I tell him to tell me what I should do better, and how I should do it. It's just all-around good advice."

That said, Mantle quickly took to the fundamental keys that she could perform in order to allow this Knights crew to claim one of the four banners that would be heading back to Lo-Ellen Park at the end of the day.

"He's helped me a lot on serving, but I am still working on that," said Mantle. "He's such a strong server, and I usually get all of my serves in. They're not super strong, but they are in the court."

The grade 10 girls doubles team of Logan Waltenbury and Ava Punkkinen had only marginally more experience together than their mixed teammates, having played with different partners in grade nine before coming together early this spring.

That didn't stop them for adding to the Lo-Ellen hardware haul, besting Sophie Beauchamp/Julia Roy (College Notre-Dame) 10-3 in the final. "We practiced a lot outside of school, so we improved a lot," said Waltenbury. "Our serves were a bit more consistent, and we were placing the ball more, instead of just hitting it, well, sometimes we were."

Like most of the Sudbury tennis representatives that have advanced, the Waltenbury/Punkkinen connection will tread in uncharted waters next week at the NOSSA Championships in Blind River. "We don't really know how we're going to do," said Waltenbury. "We would like to win, but we're not really sure what the competition is like. I'm assuming it's quite a bit harder than it is at cities."

After earning a silver medal at the OFSAA Tennis Championships last spring (high school division - ie. non club players) while still in grade nine at Lo-Ellen, Andrew Varghese did the expected, breezing his way through the local field on Thursday, a run that culminated with a 10-1 win over Calin Ranger of Macdonald-Cartier.

It wasn't as though Varghese was resting on his 2017 laurels. "I'm ten times the player I was last year," he said. "Last year, my main focus was simply on getting the ball back, focused on consistency, but this year, I'm extremely confident in my ground strokes and my serves. Instead of being the defender, I can be the attacker when I'm playing."

Knowing full well that his level of competition will increase steadily as he tries to repeat or better his performance of one year ago, Varghese took advantage of the SDSSAA tournament to continue working his game.

"There's one shot I've been trying to perfect, my inside out forehand," he said. "I'm really trying to develop that shot, because it's what you use to construct a point. It's really important to practice that when you have a chance."

The final match of the day lagged on well past the others, as Lo-Ellen freshman Lauren Fearn forced fellow grade nine Knight Brianna Fazekas to a second full set, atoning for a round robin loss with a tie-breaker win in game one of the final.

When the dust settled, Fazekas had claimed the city title, 11-9 in the second set.

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