Reno - Considering the last four years have been something of a golden age for tennis at Galena High School, it's only fitting a nucleus of golden seniors are leading a 12-player contingent into the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Tournament later this week in Las Vegas.
Andy Sweatt, Aaron Gross, Andrew Abrass and James Dugan - all fourth-year veterans of Galena's program - carry the banner as the Grizzlies enter the state team tournament starting on Thursday. When the individual competition swings into action on Friday, Sweatt will come in as the No. 1 singles seed from the North, and he will be joined by teammates Rares Trocan (No. 3 singles) plus Ryan Thornton and Chris Ferguson-McIntyre (No. 3 doubles).
That's not all, because seniors Dawn Stupfel and Alexis Scott qualified for state as the North's No. 2 seed in girls doubles. Stupfel, another of Galena's four-year veterans, and Scott entered the zone tournament last weekend seeded seventh, but vaulted all the way to the finals before losing to Reno's top-seeded Cynthia Levitt and Kelli Lonergan.
All in all, this is the largest contingent Galena has sent to state, according to coach Mark Hurst, who is assisted by Zachary Gross.
"This is the most we've taken as far as total number of individual qualifiers," Hurst said. "Our program is starting to come around. We don't just show up for the first day of practice, we're starting to get kids who hit during the off season; they take advantage of our summer school program and we've taken them on a trip down to Stanford the last couple of years. The kids have put in their time and it's starting to pay off."
Tennis success is nothing new to the courts on Butch Cassidy Way. Galena's girls captured the Northern 4A zone team championship in 1996. The boys have qualified for state final four two of the last three years.
Thursday, the Grizzlies will take the court at 9 a.m. to play four-time defending state champion Green Valley.
"Green Valley is going to be very tough to beat," Hurst admitted.
Then again, Galena only lost its bid for the Northern zone title last week by a 12-10-1/2 score to Reno.
"I'm happy about how our team did," Sweatt said. "That's the closest we've ever gotten to Reno."
Hurst wasn't surprised to hear Sweatt say that.
"Andy's just a great kid," the coach said. "That's the first thing out of his mouth - he's happy with how the team did."
As a sophomore in 1997, Sweatt combined with Nathan Roach to win the 4A doubles title at state.
"Andy has a chance," Hurst said. "He's been there before. He's competed against those kids before, and he's come from behind to win. Two years ago, he lost the first set in the finals at state and came back to win, so they know him, also."
Sweatt knows he will face some more big tests from the South.
"Ben Regin and Chasen Cohen (of Green Valley) both play national competition. I know they'll be tough. Cohen was injured last year so he wasn't at the top of his game," Sweatt said, noting that
Regin was on the Green Valley team he and Roach beat in the 1997 state final.
Should Sweatt succeed in adding a state singles championship, he would join a select group. Bishop Gorman's David DiMartino won back-to-back state singles titles in 1996-97 and then shared the 1998 doubles title. The only other players to duplicate the feat are Clark's Jack Pate (1975 doubles, 1977 singles) and David Pate (1977 doubles, 1978-79 singles).
This isn't a one-man show, either. Gross, who serves as team co-captain along with Sweatt, was a factor in the Grizzlies runner-up finish in the North.
"Aaron wasn't a starter until his junior year, but he was a big reason we came so close to beating Reno," Hurst said of Gross, who played No. 2 doubles with Kevin Tappan. And James Duggan won two matches against Reno, that was the first time he'd ever won against Reno."
Stupfel and Scott came into zone as the No. 7 seeded team after compiling a 22-5 regular season record, but they were a force to reckon with at zone.
"They had been in a little bit of a mental slump," Galena girls coach Yvette Deighton said. "But the last two weeks they've been pumped up, and the last two days, they really rose to the occasion. They just played excellent. They were hustling, running down every ball."
Stupfel, a state doubles qualifier in 1996 and again in 1998, is looking forward to another shot.
"We're excited," she said. "Especially the way we were seeded. We knew we had to beat a McQueen team we had never beaten before."
They simply stuck to the basics to get the job done.
"It wasn't so much showing off or trying to do anything fancy, it was more about playing smart and just getting the point. That seemed to work to our benefit."
Deighton saw potential when the pair got together back in August.
"I thought they had the potential to do well, it was just a matter of bringing their styles together. They put their heads together and became more aggressive, and once that happened, they brought up their level of play."
These players are more than standouts on the court, too. Sweatt, Scott and Abrass are straight-A students in the classroom, and Galena's boys squad carries a combined 3.53 grade point average.
Scott has played tennis at Galena each of her three years since transferring to Galena from Irvine, Calif. She ranks among the top five in her class academically, is involved with student government (commissioner of public relations) and was a homecoming queen candidate. Stupfel carries a 3.6 overall grade point average and has also been active in ROTC and competes for the swim team.
Sweatt, a valedictorian candidate, also has his sights set far for the future. He hopes to play some college tennis, and happens to be considering a major in biomedical engineering.
"Nevada Day weekend, I'm taking trip East to visit Boston College, Dartmouth and UConn," Sweatt said. "I'm looking at academics first; those are all excellent schools, both academically and with their tennis programs."