By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — McAlester’s tennis squads have become mainstays of the annual Class 5A tournament ever since Chad Waller took over the program eight years ago.
This season’s Lady Buffaloes will be no exception, finishing runner-up at Monday’s regional tournament at Cascia Hall in Tulsa and qualifying their entire team to today’s state tournament in Oklahoma City.
“We’ve got a shot to place in every spot,” Waller said Wednesday.
“I feel like we’re going to have a real good showing at State this year.”
One-singles player Krystal Hixson led the Lady Buffs, blanking Tahlequah’s Cheyene Marshall in the first round, 6-0, 6-0. She beat Piedmont’s Logyn Williams in the semifinal, 6-3, 6-4, then lost in the championship to Cascia Hall’s Peyton Jennings, 6-1, 6-2.
“I could’ve played better in the first set, definitely,” Hixson said of her championship game Tuesday.
“When my mind’s right, then my serves are good and I’m confident in my strokes.”
Hixson battled illness throughout the 2013 postseason, but this season she’s remained healthy.
“Krystal’s got like the top-notch spot,” teammate Jennifer Amy said. “She’s ready for it”
McAlester placed third in the other three divisions at Regionals, scoring 25 points overall to finish second. Cascia Hall — a team Waller expects to win the state championship — won all four divisions and the tournament with 36 points, and Grove finished third with 22.
In two-singles, McAlester’s Preziosita Crawford shut out Tulsa-East Central’s Melanie Graziano in the first round, 6-0, 6-0. She lost 6-2, 6-1 to Piedmont’s Nicole Hacker in the semifinals, then beat Tahlequah’s Chase Brose, 6-0, 6-0.
Crawford finished the tournament by beating Grove’s Tori Lee in the third-place game, 6-2, 6-1. She called Hacker “one of my kryptonites.”
“She’s a pusher, and pushers get every ball back, no matter how hard or how good of a shot it was,” Crawford said.
“I’m more of a ground-stroker. Basically, most two-singles are pushers, and I don’t like two-singles girls. I like playing like one-singles girls: more hardcore, just hitting.”
One-doubles team Amy and Rayne Key finished third despite playing what both they and Waller said was one of their worst tournaments of the season. They handled Skiatook’s Bush and Willingham in the first round, 6-0, 6-2, but then lost 6-1, 6-2 to Tahlequah’s Schietelbein and Schneider in the semifinals.
“We’re always trying to get first,” Amy said. “We’re never trying to get anything below that. Semifinals ... we just didn’t plays as hard as we were supposed to, because we’ve beaten them before. We just need to work on a few things, like communication and such. It was mostly trying to be consistent.”
Amy and Key recovered from the loss to beat Piedmont’s Miner and Norman, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4. They finished the tournament by beating Grove’s Correa and Roach in the third-place game, 6-3, 7-5.
Parker Tidwell and Keiara Johnson rounded out the Lady Buffs, placing third in two-doubles. They posted McAlester’s third first-round shutout of the tournament, beating Del City’s Eden and Driskill 6-0, 6-0, but lost to Grove’s Hampton and Vazquez in the semifinals, 6-3, 6-2.
Tidwell and Johnson quickly regained their form after the loss. They beat both Skiatook’s Currier and Estes and then Tahlequah’s Guzman and Milnick 6-1, 6-0, to finish third.
“My last year, so I just went more, went harder,” Tidwell said. She added that her third-place finish was the best regional performance of her career.
Tidwell and Johnson, a freshman, have only been playing together since the McAlester Burn Out tournament on April 18. Waller said Sydney Creager, Tidwell’s previous partner, suffered a concussion during the season, but the Tidwell-Johnson pairing has worked out well and speaks to the team’s depth.
“She has really good forehands and backhands,” Johnson said of her partner. “And whatever she can’t get, I can get to because I’m fast.”
Regional results were provided by Cascia Hall tennis coach Molly Hannagan.
Of the six Lady Buffs going to State, only Key and Johnson have never been to State before. Amy is the only returning placer, having finished eighth with then-senior Loretta Medina in 2013.
“I’m excited,” Key said.
“I think this year, we’re stronger than ever ... because we all started as freshman and we’ve just been working at it year to year.”
The state tournament begins today at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center at 3400 N. Portland Ave. Qualifying teams met Thursday evening at Putnam City High School to decide seeding.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.