Moments after they had been shut out 6-0 in the 2014 3A state championship match by Cardinal Gibbons, the Marvin Ridge boys’ tennis team huddled and vowed to return to the state finals in 2015 – and win it.
And beating four-time, defending state champion Cardinal Gibbons added incentive.
Coach Julie van Olden and her Marvin Ridge tennis team got everything they wished for this season. They knocked off Cardinal Gibbons in dramatic fashion. The team won 5-4 in a grueling match that lasted nearly five hours -- and wasn’t decided until the final doubles’ match. The victory capped an 18-0 season for Marvin Ridge with a state title.
The Mavericks No. 1 doubles’ team in John Hatala and Avanish Madhavaram outlasted Cardinal Gibbons’ Matt Galush (two-time, defending doubles’ champion) and Jim Mantyh, 11-10 (doubles’ pro-set), winning the tiebreaker, 7-3.
“On the court, neither of us (Hatala and Madhavaram) really felt nervous, all that pressure just turned into adrenaline, and we were completely focused,” said Hatala, of the deciding doubles’ match. “But once we got to the tiebreaker, and got an early lead you could sort of feel the weight of the moment. Then, it all happened so fast. One minute, there’s all this pressure to finish it off. The next minute, the whole team is rushing the court and the feeling is all relief. In the end, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.”
Junior George Lovitt, the Mavericks’ No. 1 singles’ player, said the team effort made it all the more satisfying.
“I’m really happy that every guy on our team on every line stepped up and played their best tennis when we needed,” Lovitt said. “This was what we wanted from the minute we lost last season. It’s amazing that a five-hour match it came down to a couple points. To beat a great team like Cardinal Gibbons to win it all makes it all the more satisfying.”
The entire 3A state championship match was packed full of drama as Marvin Ridge got three singles’ wins from Hatala (No. 2 singles), Madhavaram (No. 3 singles) and Hayden Wohlfarth (No. 4 singles) to end the session tied at three.
“Winning three singles’ matches was huge, because we felt like we had all the momentum going into doubles’ play,” said Hatala, who was named the state championships’ most valuable player. “We were very confident in our doubles’ teams and we felt like all the pressure was on them.”
Cardinal Gibbons stole the momentum first in doubles’ play as Kyle Fitzgerald and Louie Velasco beat the Marvin Ridge duo of Wohlfarth and Liam Florian, 10-7. But Marvin Ridge evened the score at four, when their No. 2 doubles’ duo of Lovitt and Woody Watson dispatched the Crusaders’ Kyler Zadell and Brody Chapman, 10-4.
Then came the final match .
“We knew it was going to take everything we had to win a state championship and beat a team like Cardinal Gibbons,” van Olden said. “For us, it had to be a total team effort. Everyone had a job to do, to be responsible for their own line. It was extremely gratifying to have a plan, to work that plan and to achieve it.”
van Olden said she got her first glimpse of how good her team could be when Marvin Ridge beat Charlotte Country Day, 5-4 on April 1, handing the Bucs (17-2), their only regular season loss. Marvin Ridge built an impressive resume of victories this season, also knocking 4A powers like Charlotte Catholic, Myers Park and Providence.
Lovitt (25-3 this year in singles’ play) won the Southern Carolinas’ conference singles’ title (SCC), 3A Midwest Regional championship and was the 3A state singles’ runner-up. Seniors, Watson and Wohlfarth, won the 3A state doubles’ title beating teammates, Hatala and Madhavaram, the 3A state runner-up. The Watson-Wohlfarth duo was also the SCC and 3A Midwest Regional doubles’ champions.
The scary thing for their opponents is the Mavericks only lose two starters this year – co-captains Watson and Wohlfarth – and key reserve, co-captain, Andrew Viditz-Ward. Marvin Ridge will be among the early favorites to repeat as state champions.
“We couldn’t have scripted this season any better if we had written it ourselves,” van Olden said. “From tryouts to the state championship, everything seemed to fall in the right place at the right time. As much as this was a dream team, it was a dream season.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.