SALT LAKE CITY
Brendon Kempin’s father may have been more nervous about the No. 1 singles championship match than anybody.
Dixie’s Tevan Balian had a lot of moments where he pushed around the Juan Diego standout Kempin, corner to corner, at the Liberty Park tennis courts Saturday.
Kempin’s father — a former Weber State player who is now a tennis-company executive — has always been nervous about how much sliding his boy does on the hard surfaces to reach for tough shot. Balian tested that apprehension.
“He thinks I’ll break an ankle,” Kempin said.
All he did, in reality, was be part of a Juan Diego juggernaut that ended the season for all five Dixie positions in the 3A state tournament — including Balian in the championship match in just 13 games. The same went for the No. 3 singles final.
“That’s tough,” Dixie coach Eric Christensen said. “I was talking to (Juan Diego’s) coach, and he was calling it a once-in-a-hundred-years type of team that he had. We’ve had a great season, though.”
Same goes for Desert Hills, which settled a three-way split for the St. George region title by garnering second place at the state meet. That came after sweeping both doubles championship matches against rival schools.
The Hardy brothers — Clay at No. 1, Austin at No. 2 — each won titles with their partners (Christian Davis and Preston Permenter, respectively) as the Thunder accomplished their goal since day one to be the best doubles groups in the state.
“We knew we’d be strong there,” Desert Hills coach Dow Christenson said. “The only question in my mind was nerves. You get there, and it’s just a different environment, especially that second day.”
The semifinals went as planned by seeding, even as the tournament moved back outdoors after a Friday spent at two indoor locations because of nasty weather.
Balian ousted TJ Mayo of Park City in straight sets in a Saturday semifinal, the first time they had ever met.
The Dixie senior — who says he will not play college tennis — took four games last year against Kempin in the championship match (6-2, 6-2) but fell 6-0, 6-1 on a windy, cold and quick match near downtown.
Kempin won the first 11 games, though it wasn’t through a lack of effort or skill from Balian. He blistered some forehands, walloped some one-handed backhands and served well in more than spurts. But Kempin (bound for Notre Dame next year to play his sport) said he was focused “and really pumped to play him” after his own semifinal in which he claimed a lack of focus.
Kempin squandered three games in the semis, compared to Balian’s 7-5, 6-1 outcome.
Just as it was no easier in the finals for Balian, teammate Luke Heaton found the same tough patch in his second match of the day.
Heaton fell, 6-2, 6-1 to Juan Diego’s Brenton Reyner in the No. 3 title match.
Reyner (a senior) would be a serviceable No. 1 at most schools. He just happened to be playing behind the Kempin brothers, including Ryan, who won the No. 2 title as a sophomore.
Balian lost 11 consecutive games before a nice winner cut his deficit to 5-1 in the second set. Some friends and coaches cheered, and Balian smiled. There were a bunch of long rallies, but Kempin tended to be one shot better.
“I knew I had to grind it out against (Kempin),” Balian said. “But he got to everything. I knew he would, though.”
Dixie loses five seniors from this team, which Christensen said will set up another exciting region 9 atmosphere next spring.
Desert Hills used its experience this year to thrive at doubles.
The senior pair of Clay Hardy and Davis won a No. 1 doubles title thriller against Snow Canyon (senior Logan Wrigley and freshman Matt Morgan) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
At No. 2, sophomore Austin Hardy and soon-to-be-graduated Permenter ousted Snow Canyon’s Hunter McArthur and Devin Radmall in straight sets (6-2, 6-4).
The Thunder’s doubles sweep actually gave it second place for the tournament, 14 points, eight behind Juan Diego.
Snow Canyon took third place, two points behind Desert Hills, and Dixie had 11 points for fourth place.
“It felt good to settle it, and be the best from our area in this tournament,” Christenson said.
Team scores: Juan Diego 22, Desert Hills 14, Snow Canyon 12, Dixie 11, Grantsville 9, Park City 7.