Skyline reaches state finals in boys tennis for first time in program history, Huron and Pioneer also advance
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Rarely does a No.2 singles semifinal match in the MHSAA boys tennis tournament have as much on the line as it did Friday afternoon at Pioneer High School.
With members of the Ann Arbor Skyline and Saline High School boys tennis teams watching their every move, seniors Fajr Najib (Skyline) and Will Heider (Saline) engaged in a dramatic battle Friday afternoon in which the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Both schools were one point shy of an automatic berth in the state finals and Najib and Heider were headed to a third set tiebreaker. Heider had recovered from being down5-2 in the third set.
Eventually Najib won the tiebreaker 7-4 and the match 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 earning Skyline its first playoff appearance as a program.
With tears in her eyes, Skyline head coach Robbie Risdon tried to sum up what the win meant to her and her team.
“It's hard to say because its so emotional,” Risdon said. “Its just amazing. This is something we’ve been thinking about since the first day of practice. That was our goal and to work as hard as we did to make it is awesome.”
Cheers from the Skyline payers immediately turned to hugs and screams of jubilation.
“We’re going to states!” yelled numerous members of the team.
The soft-spoken Najib said it was tough playing with so many people watching his every shot.
“I was just trying to win every single point one at a time,” Najib said. “(It was) a lot of pressure that I didn’t like.”
Team captain Ryan Franke was relieved to finally get the monkey off the team’s back.
“It's huge. Coming into regionals we didn’t think it would come down to a third set tiebreaker,” Franke said. “It was great that Fajr was able to step up with such an emotional match with so many people on both sides cheering.”
“Its been really, really great to finally be able to get to the other side of that hump.”
On the other side of the match, Saline was left with only one more chance to secure a spot in states when No.1 singles player Blake Ahadi met Huron’s No. 1 Jack Petersen. Unfortunately for the Saline, Ahadi fell to Petersen 6-2, 6-1 ending its hopes of a playoff berth.
“Well we came up one point short we had a couple opportunities in a couple matches,” said Saline head coach Andy BeDell. “We just didn’t get it done. It’s a very tough region.”
Aside from the top two teams in the regional tournament, 18 team points are required to advance. This marks the fourth consecutive year that Saline has finished with 17 points and failed to advance.
Tournament favorite Huron swept all eight flights, earning the maximum 32 points as a team. Pioneer also qualified scoring 19 points and finishing second in the regional.
“I think we have a good chance of winning state this year, we’re sort of piquing at the right time,” said Petersen. “We swept regionals and we swept SEC’s, so I don’t think there’s anything stopping us from inning states.”
The MHSAA Division 1 state finals will be held at the Midland Community Tennis Center in Midland on Oct. 19-20.