By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

What a racket

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterMcMinnville teammates Nathan Johnson (facing camera) and Cody Thomas hug after winning in the semifinals of the Pacific Conference boys doubles championships Saturday at Linfield College.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterMcMinnville doubles teammates Sam Purdy (left) and Molly Olsen (right) play during a quarterfinals match Friday. Purdy and Olsen finished fourth to qualify for state.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterMcMinnville girls tennis player Caitlan Baker finished fourth at the Pacific Conference championships to qualify for state.
Ben Schorzman/News-RegisterMcMinnville doubles teammates Adam Kiff (left) and Will Worth (right)  finished fourth at the Pacific Conference Championships to qualify for state.

The Grizzlies boys tennis program earned four state qualifiers — the most in coach Wes Gabrielsen’s four years at McMinnville. Doubles teams Nathan Johnson and Cody Thomas won the boys doubles championship, and Adam Kiff and Will Worth finished fourth to also qualify for state.

On the girls side, the Grizzlies are sending three players. Teammates Molly Olsen and Sam Purdy finished fourth in the girls doubles bracket to qualify, and singles player Caitlan Baker was also fourth to extend her season.

Worth and Kiff play at approximately 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Portland Tennis Center in the first round of the 6A boys doubles tournament vs. Landon Watts and Brandon Poundstone of Barlow. Johnson and Thomas have a bye in the first round and play at approximately 1:45 p.m. Thursday in the second round, also at the Portland Tennis Center.

The first two days of the 6A girls tennis tournament is at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center. Baker plays Courtney Hammagren of South Salem at 9 a.m. Thursday. Olsen and Purdy play Katherine Benedict and Maddy Sandquist at 9:45 a.m. Thursday.

The Mac boys earned 26 team points at the conference championships over the weekend, finishing second behind Newberg (34 points). The Grizzlies had seven all-conference selections — Kiff, Worth, Johnson, Thomas (first-team); Daniel Post (second-team singles); Nicky Domenichini and Brendon Walters (honorable mention doubles). Domenichini and Walters won the boys doubles consolation final 6-3, 6-2 vs. Loen and Steppe of Tualatin.

Johnson and Thomas played inspired tennis through the three-day conference championships. Coming in as an unseeded dark horse, the pair ran through their matchups. Johnson played No. 1 singles this season for McMinnville, and Thomas was No. 2.

“Just all around stroke wise, consistency, power and overall strokes,” Gabrielsen said, “they were the two best kids in that bracket,”

Johnson beat three Newberg doubles teams to win the title. After taking care of Atkinson and Staples in the first round, the pair beat a team from Hillsboro in the second round. In the quarterfinals — with a berth in the state tournament on the line — Johnson and Thomas defeated Tanous and Wilbur of Forest Grove that earned the bracket’s fourth seed instead of them. Then they won 6-1, 6-3 in the semis vs. Peterson and Tillman of Newberg and 6-3, 6-1 in the finals vs. Yu and Farr of Newberg.

“So much fun,” Thomas said. “It’s been amazing.”

Thomas has a bit of a family tradition of winning district titles in tennis, Gabrielsen said. Thomas’ older brother, Max, was a doubles champion for the Grizzlies, and Thomas’ mother won a district title for McMinnville when she was in high school.

“That was a really special moment for him,” Gabrielsen said.

Kiff and Worth lost in the semifinals 7-6, 2-6, 4-6 vs. Yu and Farr. The pair then had to withdraw in the third-place match after Worth suffered from heat exhaustion in the first set.

Gabrielsen said he was worried for Worth and hopes he can recover in short order for the state bracket.

Overall, Gabrielsen said Newberg had too many good results to overcome, but with Domenichini and Walters winning the consolation finals just minutes apart from Thomas and Johnson winning, he couldn’t have been more pleased.

“It was a great end,” he said. “All I could ask for.”

For the girls team, coach Angelic Huston said Mac’s second-place finish was a great finish to the season.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I honestly couldn’t be more proud of how everyone played in the first round Thursday. The goal was to finish with our best play at districts and everyone did that.”

The Grizzlies won six of their eight matches in the first round. Shay Bristow, who lost in the first round, won two more matches but lost in the consolation semifinals.

In the singles bracket, Baker won 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals vs. Kassie Grove of Newberg to qualify for state. Baker lost her next two matches to finish fourth, but Huston said she worked with Baker on developing her overhead, which she used to devastating effect throughout the tournament.

“She has figured out her weapon,” Huston said.

Meanwhile, Olsen and Purdy continued to play well. They beat a team from Century in the first round and a team from Forest Grove in the second round. In the quarterfinals, Olsen and Purdy lost the first set to Hamilton and Wiltshire of Newberg 3-6. They came back in the second set to win 6-3, and they finished it off with a 6-4 win in the third.

“They were so excited,” Huston said. “The doubles bracket was just unbelievably tough.”

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