Palo Verde’s boys tennis team is so accustomed to winning state titles, it didn’t even think about the possibility of losing last season.
The Panthers had captured four of the previous five state titles before being stunned by Reno in the semifinals of last year’s Class 4A tournament.
It broke a 43-match winning streak and the hearts of the Panthers, many of whom seemed almost certain they would hoist a third straight state trophy.
“We were all focused on just winning a third title,” Palo Verde coach Zach Brandt said. “We weren’t focused on beating Reno. That was our big problem. That was a huge mistake on our part, including myself. Everyone thought we were going to get past Reno and play Coronado. We will never do that ever again.
“Coach and team totally were looking ahead.”
Palo Verde (14-0) gets a shot at redemption this week when it competes in the Division I state tournament at the Caughlin Athletic Club in Reno. The Panthers face Northern Region runner-up Bishop Manogue (10-1) in a semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday. Sunrise Region champion Coronado (13-0) and Northern champion Reno (11-0) meet in the other semifinal at 9 a.m., with the two winners returning at 9 a.m. Friday.
“A lot of them hated that feeling of losing,” Brandt said. “They practiced a lot over the summer, and guys that I never expected to step up stepped up.”
As a result, the Panthers haven’t been seriously tested this year. Their closest match was a 13-5 win over Centennial in the Sunset Region final, a match Palo Verde led 9-3 after two rounds.
“Tons of motivation,” Palo Verde senior Ozzy Abraham said of last year’s loss. “All these guys are out here fighting. Everyone is having fun, and they’re fighting, and that’s great.”
Abraham, a two-time state champion in doubles, has shined in singles this season, along with Trevor Johnson and Rhett Bossung.
“When you lose, you get that hunger back,” Brandt said. “These guys were so hungry at practice in August. They were already talking about how hungry they were. It just helps them through the season. The hunger has to stay there the whole season.”
The Panthers’ doubles teams of Wesley Mann and Conor Safbom, Zack Surmacz and Bailey Swainston, and Bruno Sunago and Jordan Baduria are talented, as well, and will be counted on as the team shoots for its sixth crown.
“I feel like some people weren’t ready last year,” Abraham said. “Now everyone knows that anything can happen.”
The Division I girls semifinals also are Thursday, with Sunrise champion Coronado (13-0) facing Northern champion Reno (11-0) at 11:30 a.m. and Sunset champion Bishop Gorman (13-0) meeting Galena (10-1) at 4:30 p.m. The final is at noon Friday.
The Division I-A tournament begins Thursday at Reno Tennis Center.
The boys semifinals pit Southern Region runner-up The Meadows (12-4) against Northern Region champion Truckee (9-2) at 9 a.m. and Southern champion Clark (16-1) against Northern runner-up South Tahoe (5-6) at 11:30 a.m.
In the girls semifinals, it’s Southern runner-up Faith Lutheran (16-3) facing Northern champion South Tahoe (8-2) at 2 p.m. and Southern champion The Meadows (15-1) meeting Northern runner-up Incline (5-6) at 4:30 p.m.
The I-A boys final is at 9 a.m. Friday, with the girls final to follow at noon.
The singles and doubles championships in each division begin Friday and conclude Saturday.