Perfection! Lady Marauders finish regular season unbeaten

It's mid-morning on Good Friday, and while school is out, members of Mingus Union's varsity girls tennis team work on serves and volleys at the lower courts.

Upbeat tunes blast from coach Jeff Knight's car, parked just outside the fence with the hatchback raised.

"It keeps them jazzed," the coach said of the musical accompaniment.

The Lady Marauders likely don't need too many more reasons to be jazzed these days. They've had a fabulous spring, and with this week's sweep of Glendale, Sunnyslope and Buckeye, the group can now celebrate a perfect regular season.

Sixteen wins overall, 14 against Skyline Region foes. No losses – and no real threats of defeat. Only Cactus Shadows and Thunderbird managed to take as many as three matches from Mingus – and that was the first time through the region schedule. The Marauders fared better in the rematches — 8-1 over T-bird and 7-2 over Cactus Shadows.

"Although the top six varsity players tend to get most of the recognition, this year it was a truly team effort," Knight said. "I was most impressed with the girls' work ethic. The last two years, practice would end some time between 4 and 4:30 as the girls would slowly trickle off the court.

"This year several would still be hitting as late as 6 p.m. and beyond. They flat wore me out."

Because the Skyline Region recognizes next week's tournament winner as the official league champion, Mingus players still have plenty of work ahead of them. Hence, Friday's a.m. holiday practice session.

"We want that banner in the gym," said junior Jill Ferreira, a member of the Marauders' undefeated number one doubles team.

Mingus also wants to qualify a large contingent for the state 4A championships, which will be held April 27-28 at the Phoenix Tennis Center. Last year, only Ferreira and Angela Mier advanced to state – and they were the first from Mingus in several years.

"This year, we're going to state. All of us," Mier said of the team's six starters.

The amazing part about this squad is that only one player is a senior — Sara Riley, who now teams with Ferreira at number one doubles. The rest – Mier, Julie Knight, Ferreira, Amber Gillies and Tasha Gillies – are 11th-graders. Varsity reserves Kate Ferreira and Krista Kessel are sophomores.

All six starters played on varsity last spring, as well as competed together on the varsity volleyball squad this past fall. Their chemistry is evident.

They talk about doing the victory dance and have an on-going version of the dollar game – i.e. you owe your doubles partner a buck if they "accidentally" peg an opponent with the ball. Riley leads the dollar game going into the post-season.

"We all get along well together," Ferreira said. "We have fun."

Mier, the number one singles player, went undefeated in the second half of the region season. The scrappy competitor wrapped up a top seed at the region tournament with a three-match sweep this week.

Mier's regular season finale against Buckeye on Thursday might epitomize her determination this year – and the team's as well. She dropped the first set but overcame a heavy dose of adversity to win the second and the decisive tiebreaker.

"Angela played with a painfully sore toe, a bruised eye, and generally (was) just not feeling well," Knight said. "I had actually encouraged her to default, since the match had no bearing on her tournament seeding and to avoid further damage to her toe.

"However it just isn't Angela's nature to quit. With a new change of shoes – luckily she lives close to the school – some Tylenol and a few swigs of crystal clear bottled water, the Mingus number one returned to the court: not just to win, but convincingly (10-2 in the third-set tiebreaker)."

Ferreira and Riley fended off their last challenge to an undefeated doubles season Thursday as well. After blitzing Glendale's best on Tuesday and beating Sunnyslope's number one 8-3 on Wednesday, the Marauder duo struggled early against Buckeye.

The Hawks drew even at 7-7, but Riley and Ferreira took charge and won the last two games.

Julie Knight may have had the stiffest challenge against Buckeye in her second-flight singles duel. She faced Erin Byers, currently ranked third in the region, and lost in a first-set tiebreaker 8-6.

"Although Julie lost a close second set, she showed her game is peaking at the right time of the year," coach Knight said. "Julie played her best match of the season against Buckeye's 'top gun.'"

Cousins Tasha and Amber Gillies made easy work of Buckeye's number three doubles team, and both won singles matches as well. The two have been a consistent force at the number five and six singles spots all season.

"At the (region) tournament, if they get a decent draw, Tasha and Amber may play a deciding role in securing a first-ever 4A conference title for Mingus," coach Knight said.

Unlike the regular season, when teams go head-to-head, the Skyline tournament will pit the top singles players and doubles teams from all eight schools against one another.

The tournament, which runs April 17 and 18 at Paseo Racquet Center, will end with one singles champ and one doubles champ. Schools will compile points based on how well their players do in the brackets.

"Although Mingus looks formidable on paper, regional tournaments are as different from season play as putting is from driving in golf," coach Knight said. "Anything can happen, and the rules of the game change.

"And with a forecast for killer hot weather so early in the season, it just may be the spoils will go to the girls who can tough it out the best."

Knight and company would be jazzed if those girls were wearing Mingus uniforms.


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