Cassens single-handedly leads Gators’ to first-ever girls tennis 4A state title

Decatur sophomore Meghan Cassens won the Class 4A state girls singles championship Saturday in Kennewick. The title also led Decatur to a three-way tie for the Class 4A state team championship, the school
Decatur sophomore Meghan Cassens won the Class 4A state girls singles championship Saturday in Kennewick. The title also led Decatur to a three-way tie for the Class 4A state team championship, the school's first.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

It was a title that was a year in the making for Decatur’s Meghan Cassens.

Last year, as a freshman, Cassens was beaten by Gig Harbor’s Christy Sipes in the Class 4A girls singles championship match.

The loss to Sipes was Cassens’ first of the season. In fact, Cassens hadn’t even lost a set during her freshman year and beat Sipes just a week earlier, 6-4, 6-2, to win the West Central District Tournament title.

But Cassens admits the pressure of winning a state title might have affected her play in last year’s championship match.

“I thought about that match a lot,” Cassens said. “I just didn’t want a repeat of last year.”

That didn’t happen this time around.

Cassens rolled over Lake Stevens’ Antonia Liebenow in the 4A singles title match, 6-1, 6-1, at the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick Saturday afternoon. Her victory not only gave her the individual state championship, but also single-handedly gave the Gator girls their first-ever team state title. Cassens was the lone Decatur girl to qualify for the state tournament. The Gators tied Kamiakin and Newport for the girls team championship. All three teams finished with 10 points.

“We got kind of lucky with how it all worked out,” Cassens said about the team title.

Cassens spent most of the regular season playing doubles for the Gators, but switched back to her familiar singles position in the postseason.

“I play a lot of tennis outside of high school, so playing doubles during the season wasn’t a big factor,” Cassens said.

Cassens, 17, has developed into one of the better tennis players on the West Coast and has played in several national-level tournaments during the high school offseason. Last summer, Cassens finished second in the girls 16-and-under category at the United States Tennis Association’s Pacific Northwest Junior Sectional Championships and won the doubles title. She also finished 7-2 during the Pacific Cup in Oregon. The tournament featured the best youth tennis players in the West. During the tournament, Cassens beat the No. 9-ranked player in the nation from California.

“The whole high school thing really gets me nervous,” Cassens said. “You would think it would be the other way around, but there’s a huge crown on the court because they set up bleachers. But I was able to not pay attention to that stuff this year.”

“This was still very nerve-racking for her,” said Decatur head coach John Cassens, who also happens to be Cassens’ father. “It’s a totally different deal for her mentally. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a once-a-year thing or what or because everybody was expecting her to win. But it didn’t turn out to be that hard for her.”

The championship match against Liebenow was a lot easier for Cassens than many thought it would be. The German exchange student sports a 100 mph serve and uses a slice backhand that confused everybody at the state tournament, except Cassens.

“The girl from Germany was not thinking that (Meghan) could handle her slice backhand and serve,” said Decatur head coach John Cassens, who happens to be Meghan’s father. “But Meghan was able to handle it.”

“I watched her play a little bit during the tournament and all she did was slice and serve,” Cassens said. “She hit some nice shots.”

Cassens pretty much cruised through the Class 4A bracket last weekend. In fact, she didn’t drop a set during her four matches. Cassens handled Stanwood’s Megan LaLone in her opening-round match, 6-0, 6-1, then beat Central Kitsap’s Corinne Wurden in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-0. Cassens also beat Wurden in the West Central District championship match in straight sets.

In the semifinals, Cassens dispatched Kamiak’s Elaine Baik, 6-2, 6-3, before dominating Liebenow in the final, 6-1, 6-1.

“I was pretty happy after the match,” Cassens said. “I was actually happy it was over and I was kind of surprised when I heard we also won the state (team) championship.”

“Usually a team will win the state championship with more than one player,” John Cassens said. “But we’ll take it.”

Now Cassens is turning her attention to getting her driver’s license and getting a new car.

“I’m hoping to get my license sometime this week,” Cassens said. “And we are going to do some car shopping.”

In other state tennis tournament action:

• Beamer freshman Joseph de la Cruz made a solid run at his first-ever state tournament. De la Cruz finished in sixth place in the Class 4A boys singles competition in the Tri-Cities Friday and Saturday.

De la Cruz won his opening-round match, 6-4, 6-2, over Garfield’s Ryan Killory to earn a berth into the quarterfinals. But the Beamer freshman ran into Stanwood’s Kyle Koetje, who beat de la Cruz in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, sending him into the consolation bracket.

De la Cruz then dispatched of Roosevelt’s Stephan Perkins, 6-2, 6-3, and Skyview’s Kent Andreasen, 6-3, 6-1, to secure a trophy. De la Cruz lost to Jackson’s Michael Chamerski in the fourth-sixth match, 6-0, 6-4.

• The Jefferson doubles team of Mackenzie Qualls and Caroline Min dropped two-straight matches in the Class 4A state girls doubles competition Friday in the Tri-Cities. Qualls and Min lost to Eastlake’s Melanie Wang and Chelsa Tsujii in the first round, 6-2, 7-5, and then were knocked out of the tournament by Puyallup’s Kaylyn Brown and Emily Sullivan in a rugged three-setter, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

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