Tobin Yates, Damien Heller-Chen and Bryce Duncan were all key contributors for the Western Albemarle boys tennis team during its run to the 2019 VHSL Class 3 state championship.
The trio showcased their veteran leadership Monday afternoon as the Warriors rolled to a 5-0 victory over Hidden Valley in this year’s state semifinal match.
Western didn’t drop a set and surrendered just eight games as a team to earn a spot in Thursday’s VHSL Class 3 state championship match at Burleson-Burrows Tennis Center in Blacksburg.
Yates played No. 7 singles for most of the 2019 season but was pressed into duty late in the year after an injury at No. 3 singles. Western Albemarle coach Randy Hudgins said Yates didn’t miss a beat and held his own against the top level competition.
The junior standout said that experience as a freshman has paid big dividends this season.
“It just helped me play in front of crowds and get a chance to know the pressure,” Yates said. “That’s definitely helped me now for these matches. I’ve been playing better in the pressure situations and just keeping my calm when the game’s on the line and winning big points.”
Western Albemarle went up 2-0 early in the match thanks to big efforts from the bottom of the singles lineup. Charlie Miller, who’s taken over the No. 6 spot lately, rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Andrew Sakamato. Luke Kielbasa exited the court shortly after with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Ethan Su at No. 5 singles.
Heller-Chen, who dealt with a shoulder injury last week, looked in fine form during a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Ravi Jayaraman at No. 2 singles that gave Western a 3-0 lead. Gordie Fairborn was just as dominant at No. 4 singles, posting a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Zach Facciani to extend the Warriors’ lead to 4-0.
That set the table for Yates, who used a great serve-and-volley game to outwork Jacob Nichols 6-1, 6-3 at No. 1 singles to secure the victory and a berth in the state championship match.
“My serve worked well today,” Yates said. “Coming to net off my serve and just finishing points quickly and making sure I didn’t have very long rallies to wear me down. I just kept it short and simple.”
Western Albemarle, which has won the last three VHSL Class 3 state titles, will look for a final one on Thursday before making the jump to Class 4 next season. The Warriors have won eight state titles as a program, including seven since 2007.
The Warriors will play the winner of Tuesday’s other state semifinal played between Richmond’s Maggie Walker and Tabb. The match will be played at Huntington Park in Newport News.
Thursday’s state title match is slated for 9 a.m. Yates said his team will be ready.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” he said. “We’ve all worked really hard on this team and hopefully it will pay off. We just have to get there, win the match and see what happens.”