KINGMAN For those still wondering how teams like Air Force, Southern Illinois and Final Four darling George Mason earned their at-large bids into the NCAA basketball tournament, the Kingman High tennis teams can explain it in three words: strength of schedule.
The Bulldogs' difficult non-region schedule and equally tough Northwest region opponents helped them win a spot in the boys and girls 5A-II State Team Tournament which begins on Monday. The fourteenth-seeded boys will play at No. 3 Desert Mountain at 1 p.m., while the tenth-seeded girls will be at No. 7 Shadow Mountain at 3:30 p.m.
While both Kingman teams will be the underdogs on Monday, neither should be nervous or intimidated. In each of their 12-game regular season schedules, the Bulldogs faced six other 5A-tournament-bound teams. But the five seniors on both teams also realize their next loss means the end of their team tennis days.
The Lady Bulldogs had two players advance past the first round of last week's individual Regionals at the Phoenix Tennis Center. Jordan Cummins and Erin Stephenson beat Deer Valley's top doubles team 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 in the first round and knocked off the No. 1 seed from Sandra Day O'Connor 6-4, 0-6 (7), to advance to the semifinals the next day, but lost to Mountain Ridge 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 and Deer Valley's other doubles team 6-4, 6-6, 7-4 in the consolation match for a fourth place finish.
Like the girls doubles teams, the Kingman boys also switched to a best-of-three sets format for regionals rather than the Pro-8 style they had used throughout the season. Seth Norman and Jesse Ross beat Goldwater's doubles team 7-5, 6-4 in the first round, but came up short in their second match against Boulder Creek 5-7, 5-7. Russel Colson recorded a first round win in the singles bracket against Goldwater 6-3, 5-7, 10-4 before falling to North Canyon's No. 2 singles player in a third-set tiebreaker, 2-6, 6-4, 10-8.
All of Kingman's varsity players will get another chance to play for an individual title on Saturday at the individual state tournament, but will hopefully still be in the hunt for a team championship by that time as well.
Prior to last week's break from team play, the Kingman boys (5-7, 4-3 Northwest) won their last three matches of the season, including two on the road.
Conversely, Desert Mountain lost three of its last four matches after a 10-0 start, but two of those defeats came against 5A-I's No. 3 seed Brophy. The Wolves (11-3, 7-3 Desert Valley) beat all four of the teams both they and the Bulldogs faced this season (Sunrise Mountain, Centennial, Boulder Creek and Horizon) while Kingman was 0-4, and also have seven 9-0 wins to their credit.
As for the Kingman girls' (5-7, 4-3 Northwest) first-round opponent, Shadow Mountain (8-6, 4-6 Desert Valley) recorded nothing but 9-0 sweeps for wins. The Matadors were only involved in three matches that did not end in a sweep and bounced around the .500 mark all season, while Kingman experienced a streaky year in the win-loss columns. After equalizing a 0-4 start with a 4-0 run before spring break, the Lady Bulldogs lost their next three straight matches and capped the sesaon off in an 8-1 win at home. Neither team had a quality win or loss according to the power ratings, but Kingman has three wins against teams in a state tournament and Shadow Mountain only has one.
The winner of Monday's girls match will play either Desert Mountain or Dee Valley on Wednesday. The boys winner moves on to face Ironwood or Skyline.
BULLDOG BITES: A list of all the Kingman players' results from regionals can be found on 18A. ...Brackets for the state team, singles, and doubles tournaments are available at www.aiaonline.org/athletics/brackets.php.