Watanabe, Hussey, Christiansen/Yeager reach state tennis semifinals

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Covington Latin’s Sara Watanabe is in a familiar spot.

So is Covington Catholic’s Brady Hussey. And ditto for CovCath’s Alex Yeager.

Hussey, Watanabe and Yeager are in the semifinals of the state tennis tournament Thursday at Top Seed Tennis Club in Nicholasville.

Watanabe, the girls singles top seed, takes on Lilah Jane Shallcross of Sacred Heart. It’s her third consecutive semifinals. Shallcross eliminated Watanabe last year.

Watanabe’s strategy for Thursday? A line from “Top Gun: Maverick” seems fitting: Don’t think. Just do.

“I think, if I think too much about me being in the semifinals, I think that’ll take away from what I need to do on the court, and I think I’ll lose focus,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe had an easier route – she defeated Greenwood’s Arden Dethridge, 6-3, 6-2 in the Round of 16 and Anna Du of Henry Clay, 6-3, 6-1.

Covington Latin’s Sara Watanabe is in the girls singles semifinals for the third straight season. Photo provided | Ray Schaefer

Hussey, the boys singles No. 2 seed, meets Whitefield Academy’s Landon Ecarma at 8 a.m.

Yeager, who reached the 2022 boys doubles semifinal with Thomas More freshman Jackson Poulos, and Kalei Christensen, face Ethan Paek and Aryan Arusam of Louisville duPont Manual.

Hussey eliminated Sayre’s Tyler Fox, 6-0, 6-1, in Wednesday’s Round of 16. He had a lot more trouble surviving the quarterfinals against Alex Englund of Manual – his 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 win included losing his serve twice in the first set.

Englund broke Hussey’s serve to take a 6-5 first-set lead. In the tiebreaker, Englund took a 5-2 advantage – just in time for Hussey to take the last five points.

“It’s good dealing with the nerves,” Hussey said. “(I) just kept fighting.”

The second set was a lot easier – Hussey took a 3-0 lead. 

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Yeager and Christensen defeated Kian and Nikan Rosenau of Paul Laurence Dunbar in the Round of 16, 6-3, 6-3. In the quarterfinals, they eliminated Zachary Thompson and Charlie Mooney of Lafayette, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3. After the quarterfinal win, Yeager offered Christensen a bit of advice.

“Stay calm,” Yeager said. “Play.”

Comebacks fall short

Ninth Region girls doubles champion Hailey Fullenkamp and Taylor Meenach of Notre Dame fell in the quarterfinals to North Oldham’s Willow Renton and Reagen Mangan, 6-0, 6-1.

What is almost lost: Fullenkamp’s and Meenach’s 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Louisville Assumption’s Abby McClellan and Addison Littlefield in the Round of 16. Fullenkamp and Meenach trailed in the first set, 1-5, before winning 12 of the last 14 games.

“I was scared; I’ll be honest, I was extremely scared,” Fullenkamp said. 

Dixie Heights’ Tapanee Boonyawat, meanwhile, was significantly weepier – and not just because Kentucky Country Day’s Julie Adele Bedard eliminated her in the girls singles quarterfinals, 3-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-5).

Boonyawat, an exchange student from Thailand, is scheduled to return to Southeast Asia next Wednesday.

“I had a really good time here,” Boonyawat said. “I had a lot of fun.”

Before coming to Northern Kentucky from Bangkok nine months ago, Boonyawat had only played outside; she usually hits with Watanabe at Five Seasons Sports Country Club in Crestview Hills.

With the rest of the tournament being played indoors, Boonyawat talked about the meteorological differences on Wednesday. She said hitting into the wind sometimes keeps shots in play, while other shots sail long if the breeze is at her back.

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“It’s about the timing,” Boonyawat said.

Boonyawat defeated Mayfield’s Molly Null in the Round of 16, 6-1, 6-1.

Not so good

Wednesday wasn’t so good for Highlands’ Eli Back and John Laskey in boys doubles. They fell to Elizabethtown’s Mason Baldwin and Landon Hagan, 6-3, 6-2, in the Round of 16.

Back said consistency on his serve was his main problem; he lost his serve three times.

“The toss was good, but placement was off on the second serve,” Back said.

Villa Madonna’s Joey Case and Shayaan Ahmad opened the day with a 6-4, 6-4 Round of 16 win over McCracken County’s Wyatt Crabtree and Connor McIntosh. In the quarterfinals, however, Case and Ahmad lost to Dylan Dethridge and Gary Zheng of Greenwood, 6-1, 6-1.

Thursday’s schedule

Boys singles


Brady Hussey (CovCath) vs. Landon Ecarma (Whitefield Academy), 8 a.m.

Evan Guggal (Henry Clay) vs. Samuel Gurevich (North Oldham), 8 a.m.

Championship, 1 p.m.

Boys doubles


Kalei Christensen/Alex Yeager (CovCath) vs. Ethan Paek/Aryan Arusam (duPont Manual), 10 a.m.

Dylan Dethridge/Gary Zheng (Greenwood) vs. Colby Berson/Luke English, Louisville Collegiate, 10 a.m.

Championship, 1 p.m.

Girls singles

Sara Watanabe (Covington Latin) vs. Lilah Jane Shallcross (Sacred Heart), 8 a.m.

Julie Adele Bedard (Kentucky Country Day) vs. Ellie Hammond (Sacred Heart), 8 a.m.

Championship, 1 p.m.

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