RADFORD, Va. — Gate City’s Chad Sheppard is a better tennis player than he was last year. Unfortunately for Sheppard, so is Radford’s Malik Mubeen.
The Bobcats ace collected his second consecutive Group A state singles championship, taking down Sheppard 6-0, 6-0 in Thursday’s boys singles tournament final at Radford’s Dedmon Center athletic complex.
“I think he might’ve been a little more consistent in some areas. I think I did better with consistency and getting the ball into play. I’m a totally different player than last year. It was pretty rough for me last year,” said Sheppard, who was ousted by Mubeen in last year’s state singles tournament semifinals.
“But he is tough. No matter what day it’s on, he’s tough.”
In other VHSL tennis action, J.J. Kelly’s Andi Kilgore had a short, happy debut in the girls Group A singles tourney, while Gate City’s Dalton Moore and J.T. McConnell advanced in the boys doubles bracket.
In Thursday’s semis, Mubeen dispatched Perry Lowder of Appomattox Regional Governor’s School 6-0, 6-0. Sheppard engaged in a more competitive scrap with George Mason’s Brian Sham, ultimately prevailing 6-2, 6-3.
The singles finals were originally slated for 1 p.m., but were played shortly after 11 a.m. in an attempt to get in matches before gathering rain clouds made good on the threat of inclement weather. A wash-out did eventually send boys doubles play to Virginia Tech’s indoor tennis facility in Blacksburg.
“I really like these courts. They suit my game really well,” said Mubeen, who’ll play his college tennis at Swarthmore. “They’re really slow and I have time to wind up and hit my shots. Tennis is really supposed to be played outside. I’m glad we got to play out here,”
Sheppard did a much better job making Mubeen fight for his points than last year, but fatigue was an issue. The Blue Devils netter thought he might’ve made a better account of himself had the finals been played after lunch.
“I’m glad its over and stuff and now I can focus on team,” said Sheppard, who’ll suit up for Carson-Newman this fall. “But I was tired from the last match. It was about an hour and 15 minutes. It was a grinding match and (in the finals) my legs weren’t under me 100 percent. I felt that I could’ve played a little bit better.”
Kilgore made an early exit from the singles bracket, falling 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals to George Mason state tournament veteran Michelle Repper.
Kilgore, a multi-sport standout at J.J. Kelly the past four years, was making her first appearance in the state singles tournament. Repper, a senior at Mason, was making her third trip to state.
For Kilgore, there was no downside to being in Radford, not even the double-bagel breakfast Repper served up.
“She’s got the hang of things, I believe,” Kilgore said, with a giggle. “She has a very good forehand. She can hit the ball a lot harder than I’m used to playing within our region. She had a very powerful serve, too. That was challenging.”
Repper, who missed last year’s state tournament, had been putting in a lot of work in hopes of wrapping up her career as a state singles champion.
“I think I played pretty well and I think I’ll do well in the next one,” said Repper, who went on to fall 6-1, 7-5 to Bland’s Grace Sarver in the finals.
Moore and McConnell led Lowder and Matthew Cody 4-1 and had just dropped their first game to the Appomattox Governor’s School duo when the doubles were halted and forwarded to Virginia Tech. They went on to prevail 6-1, 6-1 despite the hour delay and the noticeably hotter and muggier conditions inside Burress/Burleson tennis center.
The Blue Devils felt right at home inside, having regularly trained indoors at Ridgefields Country Club in Kingsport.
“We were pretty confident coming in because we play on indoor courts a lot,” McConnell said. “It’s a faster surface ... it helps our serve and helps our movement. We knew that if we played our game, we could succeed. We’re happy with the result.”
The Gate City pair advanced to face Radford’s Mubeen and Sanjay Kishore in Saturday’s boys doubles finals, which will probably be played at 9 a.m. at Radford High School. A more immediate concern for the McConnell and Moore is the defense of Gate City’s 2008 state title. The Group A team tournament begins today, with the Blue Devils playing Radford at 1 p.m. The Gate City girls will also play Radford in team competition at 9 a.m.
“We used to be the dark horse, but now we’ve obviously got the target on our backs,” said Moore, who plays at No. 2 singles. “Everybody on our team is really focused. We’re stroking the ball really well and I’m extremely confident in our No. 1 through 6.”
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