There were a lot of H-words Covington Catholic could’ve used to describe Thursday at Top Seed Tennis Center in Nicholasville.
Start with hollering. If CovCath sophomore Kalei Christensen wasn’t motivationally screaming after almost every point in the doubles final, there were Colonels fans above the court bellowing their support.
Continue with hugging.
After Christensen and Alex Yeager won the doubles title over Greenwood’s Dylan Dethridge and Gary Zheng 2-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-7), Colonels coach Al Hertsenberg seemingly embraced everyone in sight. A few minutes later, Christensen’s mom, Michelle Christensen, tearfully wrapped her arms around her son for what seemed like forever.
The most impactful use of the eighth letter of the alphabet? Go with history – CovCath won both its first boys state team title and the first doubles championship.
“We’ve been runner-up three times,” Hertsenberg said. “I kept saying, ‘We keep knocking on the door and eventually it’ll open’.
“ … It was a big day for Covington Catholic.”
Maybe the most heartwarming part of the day – at least to the folks wearing CovCath gear – was the Christensen’s and Yeager’s second-set comeback: Dethridge and Zheng were up, 5-1.
“(Yeager) got me through it,” Christensen said. “I was down in the dumps, all the way, rock bottom. And then, just game by game, my energy kept getting higher.”
About the time the comeback started, Kevin Molony, whose daughters Kara Molony-Hussey, Lyndsey Moloney-Maynard and Molly Molony-Greene, completed stellar high school careers at Notre Dame, hollered, “There’s no time clock in tennis.”
Hertsenberg wasn’t sure Christensen and Yeager listened to his plea to keep moving, until …
“All of a sudden we won a game, we broke ‘em, we won a game, we broke ‘em, and we end up winning that second set,” Hertsenberg said.
Before the 10-point tiebreak to decide the match, CovCath assistant Jared Haught asked Christensen and Yeager what they loved.
“We love tiebreaks,” was the response. They seemed to because they took a 9-3 lead.
After Dethridge and Zheng narrowed the lead to 9-7 and Christensen missed a first serve, CovCath assistant Austin Hussey had Christensen serve down the middle of the court and Yeager poach at the net and put away the volley.
“I kind of shanked it, I can’t lie,” Christensen said. “Alex read it very well and then got it.”
Watanabe falls in finals
Covington Latin senior Sara Watanabe ended a two-year losing streak to Sacred Heart’s Lilah Jane Shallcross, but her bid for the Trojans’ first girls singles title fell one match short.
Watanabe, who’s headed for the University of Cincinnati, eliminated Shallcross, 6-2, 6-2, in the semifinals. Another Valkyrie, Ellie Hammond, defended her title, 6-4, 6-3.
“Obviously, if I had won that match (against Hammond), it would’ve been … a good end to my career,” Watanabe said. “Obviously, Ellie fought hard and I fought hard.”
Watanabe broke Shallcross’s serve and held her own to take a 4-2 first-set lead, but the more important game could’ve been the following game in which she survived three break points to go ahead, 5-2.
Hammond broke Watanabe’s serve twice in the first set and took a 2-0 lead in the second – and then watched Watanabe win the next three games.
“I just think I need to make sure that next game has to be mine, or it’s back to the same old 3-all,” Watanabe said. “I think there, I needed to capitalize a little more, but I had my chances.”
Problem was, Watanabe’s groundstrokes at the baseline cost her. An errant shot wide left and a drop shot wide right gave Hammond a 5-3 lead.
Hussey halted in semis
For the second straight year, CovCath junior Brady Hussey’s bid for a boys singles title ended in the semifinals. Whitfield Academy’s Landon Ecarma eliminated Hussey, 6-1, 6-2.
Hussey said the ankle he injured during basketball season bothered him pretty much the entire week.
“I’d say it got a little worse (Thursday),” Hussey said.
Hussey had hoped to attack Ecarma’s forehand and move him around the court; he also held his serve to open the first set.
Problem was, Ecarma won the next four games. “The shots just weren’t going,” Hussey said.
Top seed Evan Duggal of Henry Clay won the title over Ecarma, 6-1, 4-6, 1-0 (10-6).
Landon Ecarma (Whitfield Academy) def. Brady Hussey (CovCath), 6-1, 6-2
Championship, 1 p.m.
Kalei Christensen/Alex Yeager (CovCath) def. Ethan Paek/Aryan Arusam (duPont Manual), 6-3, 6-3
Dylan Dethridge/Gary Zheng (Greenwood) def. Colby Berson/Luke English, Louisville Collegiate, 6-0, 6-0
Christensen/Yeager def. Dethridge/Zheng, 2-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-7)
Sara Watanabe (Covington Latin) def. Lilah Jane Shallcross (Sacred Heart), 6-2, 6-2
Ellie Hammond (Sacred Heart) def. Julie Adele Bedard (Kentucky Country Day), 6-1, 6-1
Hammond def. Watanabe, 6-4, 6-3