Sports

Rice's tennis three-peat bid falls short at state

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The two-year run of Chris Rice as the Class 4A state boys singles champion is over.

But it wasn’t for a lack of talent or effort last weekend at the Vancouver Tennis Center. The Decatur senior lost in a heart-breaking first-round match to Inglemoor’s Brad Bator in three sets Friday morning. Bator eventually won the state title match. Rice was playing on a severely sprained ankle that limited his usually potent mobility around the court.

Bator got past Rice, 6-4, 7-6 (5-7), 6-4. Rice defaulted his consolation round match later on Friday to Auburn Riverside’s Alex VanDershelden in Vancouver.

“There was a lot of hype about the kid going for a three-peat,” said longtime Decatur coach Steve Escame, who retired following the state tournament. “There was also some ink about his injury possibly getting in the way of the that three-peat. I know that I received an apology that it was too bad my coaching career could not end on a happier note. I was not unhappy. I was proud, really proud of the effort that Chris put forth at district and at state.”

After winning the second set in a tiebreaker Rice seemed ready to gut-out a victory over Bator.

“At this point, the match was really taking a toll on his ankle and it was beginning to swell again,” Escame said. “He iced it for a few minutes before the third set, took a couple ibuprofen, put on the ankle brace and tightened it even more than before and went out for the third set.”

The break seemed to help. Rice took a 4-2 lead in the decisive third set before a perfectly executed top-spin lob by Bator fell just out of his reach. Rice went after the shot, eventually running into the back curtain at the indoor facility. During the point, Rice also strained a calf muscle before limping back to play the next point. Rice had to call an injury timeout and had the trainers rub down the cramping calf before finishing the match. Bator won the next four games.

“There was little gas left in the tank, but he fought to the last point,” Escame said. “Chris left his legacy on the court. The match was the talk of the tournament until the end.”

Rice was forced into the match against Bator after finishing up in fifth place at last week’s West Central/Southwest District Tournament. Bator won the SeaKing District title. Rice cruised into the district semifinals before his ankle forced him to default his next two matches.

Rice suffered a sprained ankle two and a half weeks ago during practice and never got back to full strength. Rice entered the district and state tournaments as the prohibitive favorite after cruising to the titles in 2004 and 2005.

“Chris was not even close to being ready to play at district, yet he beat two pretty good players to get to the next day,” Escame said. “When the pain finally was too much, he defaulted and decided to try and get well for state.”

But that really didn’t happen. Rice was probably “about 60 percent” for his match against Bator, according to Escame. But “he was ready to give it 100 percent.”

Rice will play tennis in the fall at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

The Todd Beamer doubles pair of Megan Havili and Judy Liening also had a tough first round in Vancouver Friday. Havili and Liening, who finished second at last year’s state championships, were dropped into the consolation bracket with an opening-round loss to Katie Staudinger and Ciara Schultz from Eisenhower, 6-2, 6-3. Havili and Liening beat the Eisenhower pair in the semifinals of last year’s tournament.

But Havili and Liening fought back to win four-straight matches in the consolation bracket to end up in fourth place.

It’s the third year in a row the Beamer team has placed in the top-four at state.

Havili and Liening also finished fourth at the 2004 championships.

The Titans’ run started with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Gig Harbor’s Mali Brynestad and Katilin Hildebrand and a 6-0, 6-2 win over North Kitsap’s Kearney Bangs and Britt Seaberg on Friday. Havili, a senior, and Liening, a junior, followed on Saturday with wins over Shorewood’s Samantha Lim and Jordan Reni and Britta Stime and Katrina Schwab of Mead in the fourth/seventh match, 6-0, 7-5.

A pair of Decatur boys’ doubles teams failed to place in Vancouver. Fabian Saenz and Lawrence Lin won their first-round match before dropping two straight and Tim Blackner and Travis Wagner lost their opening two matches.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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