There have been a lot of ways to describe Mingus Union’s varsity girls tennis team this season.
At the beginning of the spring campaign, you may have called them a surprise as they knocked off Skyline Region stalwarts like Thunderbird and Cactus Shadows.
As the season reached the midway point, they still wore the label of undefeated, and by the time the last few matches rolled around, most tabbed them favorites to win the tournament title.
After beating Buckeye on April 12, they even picked up the moniker of perfect – completing a 16-0 run through their regular season schedule.
But after two days of play in this week’s Skyline Region tournament, one word will suffice now – just call them champions.
Mingus Union earned the official Skyline Region title – the league doesn’t recognize a regular season champ – Wednesday afternoon by sweeping both the singles and doubles divisions at the Paseo Racquet Center in Phoenix.
Junior Angela Mier became the first Lady Marauder to win a 4A singles crown, while senior Sara Riley and junior Jill Ferreira completed the sweep with their doubles triumph.
Get that banner ready to hang in the gym, Marauders.
"Many years ago, when Mingus competed in the lower 1A, 2A and 3A (classifications) and Sedona was part of the team, some championships were won," said league coach of the year Jeff Knight. "Now as 4A competitors, Mingus bridges a long gap between conference titles. An amazing accomplishment, considering the Phoenix competition.
"It was truly a team effort. All the girls worked hard and practiced long hours. It’s truly something they deserve."
Though Mier and Riley-Ferreira went through the second half of the season undefeated, both drew number two seeds for the tournament. That meant a tougher road to the championship round.
Mier beat an Apollo player and Thunderbird player Tuesday to advance to the semifinals. Riley and Ferreira soared to the semis with wins over Apollo and Buckeye teams.
Wednesday’s semifinals would prove crucial both to the trio’s state aspirations but also to the team’s region championship hopes. If all three players won, the team trophy was in hand.
Mier overcame the defensive tactics of Apollo’s Sara Morely for a 6-4, 6-2 decision. Riley and Ferreira shook off their Sunnyslope foes 7-5, 6-2.
"As the girls finished winning their semifinal matches, the team gave a big shout as they realized they were now the 2001 Phoenix Skyline champions," Knight said. "But the story gets even better."
Mier, Riley and Ferreira would earn individual titles as well by knocking off the top seeds in singles and doubles, respectively.
Mier gunned down Lake Havasu’s Karen Klingsheim 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. Mier fell behind 4-1 in the first set, and despite pulling even at 6-6, struggled early in the tiebreaker. Klingsheim took a 4-2 lead at the first switchover and at one juncture held a 6-2 advantage – needing just one point for the set.
"But tennis champions know that leads can be deceiving and fragile," Knight said. "Digging deep and playing above-the-net and within-the-lines tennis, Angela became the champion as her comeback effort shocked her opponent."
The Marauders’ doubles team had a little easier time, winning in straight sets against Cactus Shadows’ number one group 6-4, 6-3. Knight marveled at how well his group did against their seasoned opponents.
"Sara and Jill were matched against the number one seed, a well-schooled duo from the heart of Carefree Country Club country," he said. "A tough team with a super record. Not only did they take second place behind Thunderbird in last year’s regional tournament but also they have been playing as a doubles team for three years.
"Sara and Jill (have been playing together) less than a month."
Julie Knight gave Mingus a key point in the team standings with her first-round win over Apollo’s Nikki Williams, 6-0, 7-5. She lost in the second round, however, to a player from Thunderbird 6-3, 6-4 – a marked improvement from the first time the two met. Julie lost that match 6-1, 6-1.
"Julie played her best match of the season," coach Knight said of Julie’s finale. "The match was very close with many deuce games and long, explosive rallies."
Tasha Gillies and Amber Gillies nearly upset T-bird’s number one doubles team in their opener. The Marauder duo won the first set before the Chiefs rallied to eliminate them.
"They had a chance to steal one but didn’t quite do it," Knight said. "They should be very proud of themselves."
Now, it’s on to the state tournament for Mier, Riley and Ferreira. Mier and Ferreira went last year in doubles. Riley is making her first appearance. The tournament will begin Friday at the Phoenix Tennis Center.