On his way to his graduation speech, Brent Horswell won perhaps the biggest tennis match of his life, as part of an otherwise humble No. 3 doubles match at the state tennis tournament.
With less than three hours before George Washington’s graduation ceremony Friday night, Horswell’s mind wasn’t on his speech. His best friend was in the hospital and his team desperately needed him and Ryan Mullins to beat a Parkersburg duo.
The Patriots prevailed, as Horswell and Mullins defeated the Big Reds’ Josh Roberts and Landon Wells 6-4, 6-2, advancing to today’s championship round. GW took a 13-12 lead over Parkersburg in the team standings.
That was the farthest thing from the Patriots’ minds earlier in the afternoon, when Zack Koenig succumbed to severe cramping during his No. 2 singles match against Parkersburg’s Tris Spitsnaugle. Koenig had nearly recovered from a recent illness and was ahead 6-3, 5-2 when the cramping began.
He fought though the pain, but lost the second set. Down 3-1 in the third set, he couldn’t continue. He was attended to by paramedics, given intravenous fluids and eventually transported to a hospital.
“Monday, he was feeling decently good, Tuesday he was a lot better,” said GW coach Chris Luckett. “Wednesday, he just had a cough, and we hit for an hour Wednesday. He was good to go, played good tennis [Thursday] and played good tennis this morning.
“But I think being out there in the sun, dehydration setting in … we gave him some Pedialyte, some salt tablets to get him going. They work immediately, but that don’t last long — kind of like a Roman candle.”
He was expected to be released at about 6 p.m., with coaches and teammates hoping he could attend the 7 p.m. graduation.
As the news from the hospital got better, Koenig’s teammates set about holding off a suddenly stiff challenge from Parkersburg. Koenig’s injury cost up to four points — one from the semifinal he was leading, one for the championship match he missed and two for the resulting default in the No. 1 doubles semifinal.
Koenig’s doubles partner, Ryan Massinople, had won his semifinal match in No. 1 singles. Nick Koenig followed suit at No. 3, as did Thomas McIntosh at No. 4. Nick Koenig and McIntosh combined to win their No. 2 semifinal, as well.
The Patriots and Big Reds will face off in two positions in the finals today, but Horswell and Mullins took them on in one of Friday’s final matches. Horswell, speaking as a highest-honor graduate, knew the importance.
“Our team was trying to surround him,” Horswell said. “Say a couple of prayers over him, because obviously he was feeling really bad.”
Championship finals begin at 8 a.m. today at the Schoenbaum Courts in Kanawha City, or at the Tennis Indoor Center if needed. Massinople has the daunting task of taking on the two-time defending champion and five-star recruit, Huntington’s Hunter Tubert, in the boys No. 1 final.
Huntington’s girls haven’t lost a match this week, and therefore clinched their fourth straight team title and fifth in six years. Cassie Mercer, heading to the University of Virginia after graduation, led the charge as usual and will take on Morgantown’s Abby Rosiello in the No. 1 championship.
But it hasn’t been all Mercer in these four years. Kate Huck has been rock-solid at No. 2, freshman Ava Ratcliff is dominating at No. 3, Rachel Subik has done the same at No. 4, and the doubles depth has been strong all the way to No. 3, played this year by Nicole Oliashirazi and Leah Simon.
Mercer, Huck and Simon are the graduating seniors.
“If we just had Cassie, well, it’s hard to win with just one person,” said coach Joanie Poole. “All the kids are deep as far as talent, so we’re really lucky there.”
The real battle here is for the runner-up trophy. Hurricane, University and Parkersburg all have seven points, with George Washington at six.
The Patriots have three finalists, while Morgantown has two, University has one and Hurricane is finished. If the Highlanders have a perfect day and win all seven categories, Morgantown wins the runner-up trophy in a tiebreaker.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.