Between a Round Rock and a hard place: East loses to Westwood in regional quarters
When talking about the prospects of the Plano East tennis team heading into its first regional tournament appearance since 2003, head coach Don Allen was insistent the Panthers weren't happy to just be going to Tyler.
Allen's team backed up that up by advancing to the quarterfinals and giving No. 3 seed Round Rock Westwood a run before succumbing to a season-ending defeat.
After waiting nine years to make it back to regionals, East had to wait an additional six hours as the first round of the 16-team tournament was delayed by rain. Once play did commence, the Panthers shook the tournament up a bit more by defeating The Woodlands, 10-5.
"Many in the tournament considered this an upset," Allen said, "but we never felt that way."
East picked up doubles wins from seniors Brendan Hopper-Miles Lee (No. 1 boys), junior Varun Srinivasan-sophomore Vishal Menon (No. 3 boys) and sophomores Alison Vo-Sharon Heber, but still faced a 4-3 deficit at the turn.
Singles would be a different story.
The Panthers erased their deficit quickly with a slew of straight-set wins. East would take seven of the first eight completed matches, including a sweep on the boys side. Straight-set victories were picked up Menon (No. 1), junior Triston Liu (No. 2), Srinivasan (No. 3), Hopper (No. 5) and Lee (No. 6) as well as senior Agata Jakubowska (No. 2 girls) to give East a 9-5 lead. After coming back from a team deficit, East made a comeback for the final point needed to advance as well with junior Eric Hong (No. 3) finishing the boys sweep and the dual match, 10-5, with a victory over Kristan Castagnola (2-6, 6-4, 6-2).
That set up a quarterfinals match with Westwood, the tournament's No. 3 seed.
East once again faced a 4-3 deficit Friday night. The Panthers had trailed, 4-2, and were down a set in the final doubles match before Vo and Heber stormed back for the win (2-6, 6-3, 6-2).
"Sharon and Alison once again came up big in doubles," Allen said.
There would be no big comeback in singles this time around though, thanks in large part to Westwood blitzing an East boys contingent that had been a highlight for the team during much of the season.
"The Westwood boys ended up too tough as they rolled our top three boys handily," Allen said.
Those were the only three boys matches completed, but East could take solace in the advantage it was likely to have on the girls side. That advantage never materialized. Jakubowska once again won her match (6-2, 6-2) to make it 7-4, but Westwood took the other three completed girls singles matches for a 10-4 win.
"I really thought we had an advantage on the girls side, and winning two of three doubles matches indicates that," Allen said, "but we couldn't get the job done in singles."
Hong and Heber (No. 4 girls) were each within one game of winning their respective matches, but couldn't do so by the time the match ended at 11:45 p.m.
"It was winnable," Allen said, "we just didn't come through this time."
Despite Friday's disappointing ending, East did come through plenty of times in 2012. The Panthers lost only to reigning 13-time district champion Plano West to finish second in 10-5A (winning thrilling matches over McKinney Boyd and Allen along the way), advanced to regionals for the first time in nine years and capped the team tennis season at 16-6.
"This was a great experience and accomplishment for us," Allen said. "Hopefully this will spur us on to want to do this every year."