Comeback Kids: Western boys tennis rallies to beat Blacksburg, win Group 3A state championship

Photo by Bart Isley

Western Albemarle’s boys tennis team had to rally against Blacksburg after falling into a two-match hole, but once the Warriors evened the game match at the end of singles, they knew.


“We pretty much had it,” said Western Albemarle’s Daniel Thomas. “Once we got to three-all, everyone just sort of calmed down and we realized we had it. It was basically a victory over two hours that we let sink in.”


Western won at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles to close out the VHSL Group 3A state championship with a 5-3 victory over the Bruins as a young roster with just a single senior in the lineup clinched a title.


The Warriors made sure that there was no doubt too in the doubles round, with Thomas and Alex Ix, the state doubles champions, cruising 6-0, 6-3 win before Jack Tribble and Simon Rader formally secured the state title with a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 3 doubles.


Thomas himself had to pull things together for doubles after absorbing a 6-2, 6-1 loss at the hands of Blacksburg star Matty Ducker. That’s where having coach Seth Heller handling things for the Warriors paid off.


“I got smashed and he gave me time to calm down and then 10 minutes later he came up and was like ‘are you ready to crush some doubles?’,” Thomas said. “That’s not what a normal coach would say. Just having him there as a presence helps us all the time.”


Thomas and Ix were dominant in doubles, which helped Western take advantage of Nicholas Hagspiel and Rader’s clutch performance. With just four courts available, the first four singles matches went on and Western fell at each court except for Ix at No. 2. Hagspiel and Rader took the court after, needing to at the very least split, or ideally, to sweep their matches and give Western some breathing room in doubles.


Hagspiel had missed the Warriors’ region championship clash with Blacksburg due to an injury after winning a tough region semifinal match, and his absence had a clear impact. His return had a similar impact Saturday as he and Rader both won to even the match and put Western in a strong position heading into doubles.


“I got wrecked, so I thought I’d let the team down a little bit, but I had confidence in out five and our six that they could pull that out,” Thomas said. “They have both come through so many times.”


An earlier season switch then paid dividends in doubles. The Warriors shifted the lineup around earlier in the year, putting Ix and Thomas together while shifting Tribble to No. 3 with Rader. That evened the Warriors’ doubles teams, making that part of the lineup particularly potent which showed Saturday as the Warriors won at No. 1 and No. 3 and were on track to win with Ben Maselli and Hagspiel at No. 2 doubles after that tandem split the first two sets.


“Our No. 3 doubles, it has been a lock since we made that shift,” Thomas said.


In the end, the Warriors had the right mix Saturday. The right coach, the right lineup and the right mindset to come back from a difficult deficit. That’s why for the first time since 2012, they’re state champions.


Western 5, Blacksburg 3


Matty Drucker (Blacksburg) def, Daniel Thomas 6-2, 6-1

Alex Ix (Western) def. Eshan Prasad 6-1, 6-2

Ruhan Prasad (Blacksburg) def. Jack Tribble 6-1, 6-2

Stephan Yang (Blacksburg) def. Ben Masselli 6-3, 6-4

Nicholas Hagspiel (Western) def. Charles Spicer 6-2, 6-1

Simon Rader (Western) def. Brayden Shushok 6-1, 6-4


Thomas/Ix (Western) def. Drucker/R. Prasad 6-0, 6-3

Hagspiel/Masselli (Western) versus E. Prasad/Yang DNF (3-6, 6-3)

Tribble/Rader (Western) def. Spicer/Shushok 6-1, 6-2