Lions, Lady Lions improve to 5-0 in 7-4A action, 15-2 overall with 18-1 win over Mineral Wells

When the UIL in December 2017 released its cutoff numbers for reclassification, perhaps no program was more excited to learn Abilene Wylie had moved up to Class 5A than Brownwood tennis. After years of finishing as district runner-up to multi-time state champion Wylie, the path to a league title of their own became clearer for the Lions and Lady Lions.

On Thursday afternoon, in front of a home crowd, Brownwood secured at least a share of its first district tennis championship since 2002, moving to 5-0 in 7-4A action and 15-2 overall with an 18-1 triumph over Mineral Wells.

“It feels great, but more importantly I’m excited for the kids,” said Brownwood first-year head coach Crystal Blazek, who spent the previous three seasons as an assistant. “They’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work. A bunch of them played over the summer, went to some camps and some tournaments, so they put in all the time and effort.”

The district tennis championship belongs not only to the current crop of Lions and Lady Lions, Blazek said, but the talented players that have come before in the program who just couldn’t quite topple the Wylie juggernaut.

“When we’ve had Wylie in our district in previous years we’ve had a bunch of good players that, probably if we were in any other district, could have gone to regionals and maybe even advanced from there,” Blazek said. “Being in there with Wylie was tough, but now they have a bunch of confidence and they’re just building off of it.”

Senior Gabe Hinojosa, the No. 1 boys singles player for the Lions, has won all of his singles matches this season to help spark Brownwood’s performance.

“It’s the first time we’ve accomplished this in my four years, so it feels pretty nice,” Hinojosa said. “We worked hard, worked our butts off in the heat, and we’re district champs. We earned it.”

As for his unblemished record, Hinojosa said, “It feels great knowing I haven’t lost a singles match, but it also took a lot to earn those wins. I know that now that I’m undefeated, some of the guys on the team look up to me and I’m held to a higher standard.”

Senior Piper Barberie, the No. 1 singles player for the Lady Lions, has been chasing a district championship since she was a freshman.

“It means a lot because every year, every summer, I go to camp and work so hard,” Barberie said. “We’ve always worked so hard and always got washed out by Wylie. For the first time in forever we’re doing really well this season so that means a lot, especially since we can do this my senior year.”

In Thursday’s victory over Mineral Wells, the Lions received singles wins from Hinojosa (6-0, 6-4 over Beau Dyess), No. 2 James Bautista (6-1, 6-0 over Trevor Whitford), No. 3 Tanner Scull (6-2, 6-2 over Roy Baker), No. 4 Jaydn Simental (6-2, 6-1 over Emilio Infante), No. 5 Oscar Ledezma (default) and No. 6 Matthew Bundick (default).

In doubles action for the Lions, wins belonged to No. 1 Hinojosa and Mo Goff (6-2, 6-1 over Dyess and Whitford), No. 2 Bundick and Cameron Smith (6-1, 6-0 over Infante and Baker) and a third match was claimed by default.

On the girls side, singles victories were collected by Barberie (6-1, 6-1 over Sasha Kirsch), No. 2 Lillian Jonescue (6-1, 6-3 over Reagan Carter), No. 3 Kaytlin Welch (6-1, 6-4 over Mackenzie Lawhon), No. 4 Hannah Netherland (6-1, 6-1 over Emily Myrick), No. 5 Samantha Ethridge (6-0, 6-0 over Cassidy Davila) and No. 6 Aaliyah Uvalle (default).

Chalking up doubles wins for the Lady Lions were No. 2 Uvalle and Kaylee Renfroe (6-0, 6-0 over Myrick and Lawhon), as well as the mixed doubles tandem of Ledezma and Jonescue (default).

Barberie added that while the Lions and Lady Lions are elated about their district championship, there are more goals to achieve in the fall semester.

“We want to go state, I want to get there and accomplish that,” Barberie said. “My freshman year we got close, but we’ve never gotten that far. It’d be cool to get a jacket and walk around school with that.”

The play of the Lions and Lady Lions not only improved against district competition, but in non-district action as well — which consisted of several Class 6A and 5A schools — as Brownwood has dropped just two matches this season for its best overall record in at least 15 years.

“We’ve only had two losses and that’s exciting,” Blazek said. “I really didn’t know how we would do, but we came up with some good wins earlier in the year against some 6A teams, so it’s been a good season.”

The Brownwood seniors cited a greater work ethic for their success.

“We’ve worked a lot harder this year, put in a lot more time and pushed ourselves more and it just goes to show that works,” Hinojosa said.

Barberie added, “We have coaches that are pushing us really hard, we’re practicing a lot and putting in a lot of work. Overall, as a team I think everyone is closer than we were in previous years. Everyone works together like a family and that’s what’s made it work.”

Brownwood can clinch the district title outright with a victory against Godley next week, and while the players are setting their sights on loftier goals, Blazek is sticking with the one step at a time approach.

“From this point forward we’re still on track to win district outright, then the next goal is to win our first round in the playoffs,” Blazek said. “We get a bye the first round, so our first playoff round will actually be area. Our goal is to win that match, and I think we can.”

With the roll the Lions and Lady Lions have been on this season, anything is possible.

“Our goal is to make it to state,” Hinojosa said. “There’s going to be a lot of tough matches between now and then, so we have to keep working hard.”