They are back. And back in a big way.
The Pembroke Hill girls tennis team won state team titles five of six years from 2000-05.
The Raiders had a dry spell until they captured the Class 1 championship in 2014.
The future appeared bright for the Raiders, who won 13 consecutive matches coming into the state tournament with four freshmen and a sophomore in their top five.
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But the future proved to be now as the Raiders defeated two-time defending state champion John Burroughs 5-4 in a dramatic match on Thursday at the Cooper Tennis Complex.
The heavily-favored Bombers led 2-1 after the three doubles matches and had a 4-2 advantage, meaning there was absolutely no margin for error if Pembroke Hill wanted to pull off the big upset.
The Raiders evened the match at 4-4 with wins by Jaqueline Kincaid at No. 6 singles and Jean Li at No. 4.
The state title would be determined by a match at No. 3 singles between a pair of freshmen. Pembroke Hill’s Alisha Castaner and John Burroughs’ Ainsley Heidbreder provided an epic battle for the ages.
Castaner and Heidbreder split the first two sets, leading to a decisive third set with teammates, family and friends from both teams looking on.
Heidbreder jumped to a 3-1 lead before Castaner won a pair of deuce games. (There was no-ad scoring.) Castaner held leads of 5-4 and 6-5 but could not close the match as Heidbreder saved four match points.
During the third-set tie-breaker, Heidbreder had a 4-2 lead at the change of ends, but Castaner won five of the last six points, giving the Raiders their dramatic victory.
“I should have finished it earlier,” Castaner said, “All I could think of is, if I lost this I would cry.”
The tears would come, but these were tears of joy.
“I was really nervous but more than anything I was tired,” Castaner said. “I haven’t played in a tournament as big as this. Ainsley is ranked ahead of me in the USTA (United States Tennis Association), so I figured if I won this, I will be very proud of myself.”
Castaner had plenty to be proud about as she was swarmed by teammates as they celebrated the unexpected state title.
“I figured with the four talented freshmen that we had a good shot at getting to state,” Pembroke Hill coach Mike Duckworth said. “I felt we were building something. But, holy cow. We came out and beat a great team. We talked about grit all season and Alisha played with pure grit today. It was a helluva match. We won with depth all season, and that was what we did today.”
John Burroughs won at No. 1 and 2 singles and No. 1 and 2 doubles, but Pembroke Hill swept the other four singles spots and won at No. 3 doubles.
Pembroke Hill won its last 15 matches after losing two of three in the Great Eight Tournament in Columbia to open the season.
The Raiders defeated MICDS 5-2 in the semifinals.
Lee’s Summit West finished third in the Class 2 team tournament. The Titans lost to Columbia Rock Bridge 5-0 in the semifinals but came back to defeat Springfield Central 5-2 for third place.
“Rock Bridge was even better than they have been in the past,” Lee’s Summit West coach Todd Wilson said. “But I felt we closed the gap this season. We had a match point against them at No. 3 doubles and the No. 1 doubles match was close. We had a hangover of that match in the third-place match and got down 2-1 after doubles. But we came back and won the four singles matches. It was a great way to end the season.”
Rock Bridge beat Lafayette 5-0 for the Class 2 championship. It was the first time that either the Bruin boys or girls, who have had tremendous success in tennis, had won four straight titles. A pair of seniors, Faith Wright and Katherine Dudley, won the final two singles matches in the championship match.
“They were in the starting lineup for four straight team titles,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. “That is a rarity like a total eclipse.”