ST. GEORGE — The Desert Hills High School girls tennis team swept top honors at the Region 9 tournament at the Tonaquint Tennis Center last weekend, capturing first place in all five brackets.
“We know we have a huge target on our back,” Desert Hills Thunder Head Coach Dave Smith said. “Every team is gunning for us and it becomes a battle not just of the players we are on the court with at the time, but we can feel that every team is pulling for anyone to top us.”
Before the first place matches began, Dixie Head Coach Ken Cooper talked about the tournament and his teams going up against Desert Hills.
“It’s been two great days of tennis,” Cooper said. “Our first, second and third singles are playing for first and second against Desert Hills, and then our first doubles, as well. All year, Desert Hills took first in region regular season, we took second. All the schools have worked really hard, so it has been fun to watch.”
Except for one match, a come-from-behind thriller, Desert Hills swept every other finals match in straight sets.
In No. 1 singles, the Lady Thunder’s Morgan Behymer faced freshman Kylie Kezos from Dixie in the final. Down 3-4 in the first set, Behmyer came back and won 6-4, 6-4.
Smith said Kezos played a very consistent game, which forced Behymer to change her tactics from an attacking game to a patient one.
“Morgan really disciplined herself to remain patient and waited Kezos out,” Smith said.
In No. 2 singles, Mackenzie Telford of Desert Hills rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Dixie’s Mychaella Wisneske
“Kinzie only gave up one game in all three of her region matches this weekend,” Smith said of Telford, who is now 25-1 on the season. “She might be 85 pounds soaking wet, but no one hits bigger, has more fight and is a more dominant player than her.”
In No. 3 singles, Desert Hills’ Tia Turley took out Dixie’s Brynlee Cardall 6-4, 6-3 in the finals.
“Tia tends to start slow, as witnessed by her being down 1-3 in the opening set,” Smith said of Turley, whose record improved to 26-0. “Tia is undefeated on the entire season for a reason: she is a fighter who never gives up.”
The most dramatic finals match of the tournament came in No. 1 doubles, when Dixie’s Ashley Kezos and Kalli Beckstrom battled the Desert Hills duo of Faith Hess and Cassie Kohler. Kezos and Beckstrom jumped out ahead early, dominating the first set 6-0 and taking a 3-0 lead in the second.
Kezos and Beckstrom took down Pine View’s Brielle Callahan and Cameron Miner in the semifinals, advancing to the finals to take on Desert Hills.
“Kalli and Ashley have just worked really hard all year to become the best team that they can,” Cooper said. “Pine View is a great team — those two players (Callahan and Miner) are really good. Callie and Ashley were on yesterday, and it had everything to do with how they worked hard and prepared and were ready for that match.”
Falling behind early was a huge motivator for the Thunder.
“That’s when the Thunder team woke up and got to work,” Smith recalled. “I went out at 0-3 and reminded Faith that she had come back from 1-5 in the final set against Kezos when they were sophomores at second singles two years ago.”
“We have a saying at Desert Hills, ‘You can’t come from behind unless you’re behind,’” Smith added. “Suddenly, they found a new gear.”
Hess and Kohler came back to win the last two sets 6-4, 6-2, setting off a celebration on the court.
The last match of the day to finish on Saturday was the second doubles final, which was the only bracket where the Thunder didn’t have the top seed going in.
The Desert Hills team of Callie Kohler (Cassie’s twin sister), and Anjolie Cummins were facing Cedar’s Remington Nash and Brinlee Hess who had made the finals by upsetting the second-seeded Olivia Obray and Katrina Hafen of Pine View in the semifinals.
“That was kind of an upset,”Obray said. “We were expected to be in the finals because we beat Desert Hills, and then we beat Cedar in season, but they’re just kind of a different style of playing.”
Pine View’s second doubles team is looking forward to the state tournament after the tough loss.
“Even if we won’t be going in as the first seed, we want to go as far as we can,” Hafen said.
The wind during the second doubles final played a factor for both teams but gave Cedar a little bit of an advantage.
“It was getting windy, and I knew that Cedar plays and practices in the wind up north all season,” Smith said. “I had a feeling this would be a tight match.”
True to Coach Smith’s projection, the Cedar team hung tough with Kohler and Cummins in the first set, forcing the match to 4-all.
At that point, Kohler closed off three volley winners on her partner’s serve and they closed out the first set 6-4. Riding that momentum, the Thunder took command of the match and won 6-1 in the second and final set, completing the sweep of all five gold medals for the Thunder.
“We have worked hard over these past few years to build our team and gain dominance in the region and state,” Smith said after the match. “My girls have truly put forth a tremendous effort and have grown as a team to be the team to beat.”
Smith and the Thunder athletes will have a chance to improve on their last two state finishes where they were runners up, losing only by one point last year, two points the previous year and finishing third place during Smith’s first year as head coach.
“They want it, and I believe what you saw at the region tournament, facing a number of high-quality teams in our own region and rising to the occasion, the girls are determined more than ever,” Smith said. “We don’t take anything for granted. We will go into state knowing we are the team to beat and, like region, we know teams are coming after us, and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
As for Dixie, Cooper isn’t a psychic but he think his girls will compete up north, and he said that anything can happen when you get to the state tournament.
“We always talk about raising our levels every week to go higher, and they’ve come and worked hard to be at this place,” Cooper said. “They’re going to go back back next week after this tournament and work hard to try to go and do their best at state. I’m confident in these girls, they love to play, they have fun, they work so hard, and we expect great things next week at state. Obviously the goal is always to win it, and Desert Hills has a great team, but I think we have a great team.”
The 4A state tournament is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Click here for official tournament bracket.
Cedar City News reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this story.
Make sure to follow St George News Sports on Twitter for live updates and stories on all sports in Southern Utah.
State tournament qualifiers from Region 9 tournament (top 6 finishers in each bracket)
- Morgan Behymer, Desert Hills.
- Kylie Kezos, Dixie.
- Averee Beck, Crimson Cliffs.
- Shayli Habibian, Snow Canyon.
- Katelyn Church, Pine View.
- Jessie Hayes, Hurricane.
- Mackenzie Telford, Desert Hills.
- Mychaella Wisneske, Dixie.
- Camryn Stanger, Crimson Cliffs.
- Lily Bronson, Snow Canyon.
- Abigail Farish, Pine View.
- Taycee Oliphant, Hurricane.
- Tia Turley, Desert Hills.
- Brynlee Cardall, Dixie.
- Gabby Hafen, Crimson Cliffs.
- Ava Blake, Pine View.
- Andrea Ginder, Snow Canyon.
- Ginger Farnsworth, Hurricane.
- Faith Hess and Cassidy Kohler, Desert Hills.
- Kalli Beckstrom and Ashley Kezos, Dixie.
- Brielle Callahan and Cameron Miner, Pine View.
- Brianne Leach and Gabriela Mascarenhas, Snow Canyon.
- Krista Gold and Shanda Sanders, Cedar.
- Annie Owen and Alana Frieden, Crimson Cliffs.
- Callie Kohler and Anjolie Cummins, Desert Hills.
- Remington Nash and Brinley Hess, Cedar.
- Olivia Obray and Katrina Hafen, Pine View.
- Sally Fraser and Becca Little, Dixie.
- Bailey Martin and Haven Healy, Snow Canyon.
- Ashtyn Cummins and London Wunderli, Crimson Cliffs.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.