Big Reds receive favorable draws for state tennis tournament today

Play starts at 8 a.m. today

Photo by Joe Albright Parkersburg’s Bairavi Sundaram tracks the ball before a serve during a regular season match.

PARKERSBURG — Smiles abounded during Parkersburg High tennis’ last practice before the state tournament Tuesday at City Park tennis courts.

The reason for the high number of grins?

The WVSSAC released the player draws for the championship event earlier in the day.

“They give us a good opportunity to display the talent we have as a team,” said PHS co-head coach Jeff Olson.

Parkersburg boys No. 1 and 2 singles, No. 1 and 2 doubles along with the Big Red girls No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles don’t face primary rivals and state title competition George Washington or Huntington players until the finals.

‘Our goal is to win state championships and we are still going to have to beat them,” added Olson. “But the draws were really, really good.”

The Big Reds good fortune started at the top when Parkersburg’s No. 1 boys’ singles player Zarion Jones was placed in the opposite half of the bracket from the only two players to beat him this season in GW’s Anthony McIntosh and Highlander’s state title favorite J.J. Mercer.

St. Albans’ Zachary Hensley, his opening round opponent at 8 a.m. Thursday morning in Coonskin Park, presents a new challenge for the Big Red as the two have never met on the tennis court.

Yet, the cerebral Jones isn’t bothered in the least by this fact. “No matter how good or bad somebody is I always try to evaluate them at the beginning — see how they play and then find their weakness and keep on going after it,” he said.

In the No. 1 boys dubs draw, Seena Saadevandi and Jones partner up against Riverside’s top team.

Saadevandi drew GW’s Azeem Khen in a No. 3 singles first round match. Each competitor took an 8-6 matchup from the other in two meetings this season.

“G-dub first round is a bummer,” shared the freshman.

“Anything can go down honestly. If I am on my game I should be able to beat him and hopefully play Chip in the finals.”

Saadevandi’s older brother and the Big Reds’ No.2 player Neema matches up with Woodrow Wilson’s Hazma Jafary in the opening round in his third straight trip to the state tournament.

“I played him at MSACs and beat him 8-0,” offered the senior. “It should be a decent challenge but honestly if I play well I should make it further.”

Along with No. 2 doubles partner Andrew Gnegy, he will face the Capital duo of Patrick Schiles and Quin Cleland in the first round Friday.

Eric Carney and Ethan Weaver were the final Big Red state participants to get matched up with George Washington when they face Hunter White and Kareem Baccha in a best two our of three matchup Friday.

“We’ve been close everytime we have played them,” said Weaver, who along with Carney played tough against the Patriot duo in two regular season matchups. “We really just need to stay confident and stay on top of our game the entire match and not fall apart.”

Both duos sit a win away from a state finals matchup against the winner of Jefferson’s Jordan Dixen-Gross and Tighe Didden versus Morgantown’s Syafig Aqim Zanial and Jeffrey Petty.

Ashley Casto takes to the court against GW’s No. 2 Nikita Patel Thursday with the knowledge good friend Lilly McKnight of Morgantown awaits her in the second round.

“I feel really good about my match against Nikita — I feel really confident coming in,” said Casto. “During MSACs I was up 4-0 and won 6-2, as long as my game is on, my serves are there, and I am not nervous I should be fine.

“Hopefully, I will face Lilly in the second round. Her and I are pretty good friends but on the court it has got to be strictly competition. It is very sad and bittersweet because we are going to be happy for each other whoever wins, but sad because this is how the other one had to go out.”

Bairavi Sundaram drew Woodrow Wilson’s No. 3 player Maria Salon as a beginning point in her second straight trip to the state tournament.

“I am not really worried about my draw at all,” said the sophomore. “I think I got a really nice draw for singles, which I am surprised about considering I got second in the region because Morgantown and Huntington play each other before they play me and takes out one of my biggest competitions.”

Parkersburg’s undefeated No. 4 singles player Lauren Kruger enters her tournament two wins away from a state title.

She was the final Big Red paired off with a GW opponent in the opening round. Kruger and Lia Dollison meet for the first time this season in a best of three match after both missed a previous meeting against each other earlier in the year.

“When we first played GW during the season they switched all their seeds around so I didn’t get to play her and played there five instead but really have nothing to compare to their 4,” shared the junior. “I am sure it will be a competitive match just because of the atomsphere but we will just have to see.”

Sundaram and Kruger’s best two out of three matchup against Capital’s Hannah Spruce and Emily Martin in No. 2 doubles action Friday causes the duo little concern.

“Probably not,” Sundaram responded when asked if the duo was concerned about its first round matchup. “Considering we have already played Morgantown and Huntington and have seen are greatest competition already.”

Much like Kruger, the Big Reds No. 3 doubles team stands one win away from a state championship.

Zoe Pingley and Bre Offenberger’s Friday semifinal match is against Region III champion Greenbrier East’s Anna Ahern and Marlie Kesterson, with the winner facing either Region I winner Morgantown or Region II titleist Jefferson.

Pingley was nervous for the interview, but both girls were confident about their opening match.

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