Near the end of Friday's Class A No. 1 singles state tennis final, David Liu badly mishit an overhead slam.
Liu hit the ball with the top of his racket, but as luck would have it, the ball landed just on the other side of the net and his opponent, Papillion-La Vista South sophomore Chris Dean, was too far behind the baseline to run it down.
“I felt bad about that one, but that's tennis,” said Liu, who smiled sheepishly after winning that point.
That bit of good fortune went Liu's way, but for most of the afternoon, the Millard North senior used his superior all-around game to earn a 6-2, 6-1 victory at the Koch Tennis Center.
Liu captured his third consecutive No. 1 singles state championship and finished his prep career with one loss. That loss came to Dean at the end of August — Liu subsequently handed Dean five losses in the past four weeks.
“This match was really a battle. I don't think the score indicates how close it was,” Liu said. “We both played really well. The last few times, someone was on or someone was off. This time we both played well and it was a hard-fought match.”
Liu broke Dean's serve and raced to a 3-0 lead on his way to winning the first set. Dean, who lost just six matches on the season, broke Liu's serve to pull within 2-1 in the second set. But Liu answered by breaking Dean's serve and went on to win the match's final four games.
“Chris was getting a lot back, so I tried to get to the net more to finish points off,” Liu said.
Dean helped Papio South finish third in the team standings with 30.5 points, while Millard North had 30. Lincoln Southwest and Omaha Creighton Prep battled it out for the top spot.
The Junior Jays and Silver Hawks each had 36 points entering Friday morning's semifinals. Lincoln Southwest opened a four-point lead as it had three entries reach the championship round.
Creighton Prep had two entries reach the championship round, and both defeated Lincoln Southwest players in the final. But when Lincoln Southwest's No. 1 doubles team of C.J. Sjulin and Justin Brinkman rallied to defeat top-seeded Danny Clare and Ben TerMaat of Lincoln Southeast in the final, the Silver Hawks had just enough points to win their first tennis team title.
Sjulin and Brinkman lost the first set 6-0, but they turned the match around and won the final two sets 6-2, 6-3.
“I think we were nervous because we knew we could win it for the team,” Sjulin said. “We had to take care of business.”
With the third set tied 2-2, Lincoln Southwest won three straight games. After Southeast held serve to pull within 5-3, Brinkman was able to serve out the victory. Sjulin and Brinkman won three of the five matches against Clare and TerMaat this season.
That victory gave Lincoln Southwest 48 points, two more than Creighton Prep.
“We came up a little short, but everyone played very well,” Creighton Prep coach Mike Higgins said. “Everyone played to their seed or better.”
Creighton Prep's winners were Nathan Singh at No. 2 singles and the No. 2 doubles team of Martin Gilgenast and Dillon Ketcham, who finished the season unbeaten. Gilgenast and Ketcham rolled past Southwest's Max Ferguson and Cameron Spurrier 6-2, 6-0 in the final.
Singh, meanwhile, upended top-seeded Alexander Woodward of Lincoln Southwest 6-0, 2-6, 6-1. Singh had missed last week's Metro Conference tournament due to pneumonia.
“Taking last week off really helped him so he was a lot healthier this week,” Higgins said. “And he had a really good tournament.”
Team scoring: Lincoln Southwest 48, Creighton Prep 46, Papillion-La Vista South 30.5, Millard North 30, Lincoln Southeast 28, Lincoln East 24.5, Kearney 24, Papillion-La Vista 22, Omaha Westside 20, Lincoln North Star 14, North Platte 12, Grand Island 10, Lincoln High 10, Columbus 8, Norfolk 8, Omaha Central 8, Fremont 6, Lincoln Northeast 4, Omaha Burke 4, Omaha North 4, Omaha South 4, Bellevue West 2, Millard West 2, Omaha Bryan 2, Bellevue East 0, Millard South 0, Omaha Benson 0, Omaha Northwest 0.
No. 1 singles: Championship: David Liu, MN, def. Chris Dean, PLVS, 6-2, 6-1. Third place: Thomas Kennedy, CP, def. Jonathan Meyer, LSW, 6-2, 6-1. Semifinals: Liu def. Meyer 6-0, 6-3; Dean def. Kennedy 6-1, 6-1.
No. 2 singles: Championship: Nathan Singh, CP, def. Alexander Woodward, LSW, 6-0, 2-6, 6-1. Third place: Biraj Parajuli, PLVS, def. Alexander Heywood, LE, 7-5, 6-3. Semifinals: Woodward def. Parajuli 6-4, 7-6 (3); Singh def. Heywood 6-3, 6-4.
No. 1 doubles: Championship: CJ Sjulin and Justin Brinkman, LSW, def. Danny Clare and Ben TerMaat, LSE, 0-6, 6-2, 6-3. Third place: Brady Draheim and Stavros Piperis, CP, def. Grayson McCartney and Todd Sutter, PLV, 6-1, 6-3. Semifinals: Clare and TerMaat def. McCartney and Sutter 6-2, 6-4; Sjulin and Brinkman def. Draheim and Piperis 6-1, 6-4.
No. 2 doubles: Championship: Martin Gilgenast and Dillon Ketcham, CP, def. Max Ferguson and Cameron Spurrier, LSW, 6-2, 6-0. Third place: Keaton Johnson and Matthew Reynoldson, LE, def. Connor Brown and Raymond Thai, MN, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2. Semifinals: Gilgenast and Ketcham def. Johnson and Reynoldson, 6-3, 6-2; Ferguson and Spurrier def. Brown-Thai 6-3, 7-6 (7).