Even after conferring with her fellow Gainesville High tennis coaches, Kendall Gruhn wasn’t sure of the last time it had happened.
Her Lady Red Elephants had just wrapped up the Region 8-6A championship, setting off a joint celebration with the boys team, which had achieved the same feat about 30 minutes earlier. Neither Gruhn nor boys coach C.J. Weaver could recall both Gainesville teams sweeping the region titles before, but it really didn’t matter at that moment.
“I’m not sure the last time both the boys and girls won the region together, but that just makes this even more special,” Gruhn said. “Both the boys and girls teams are close with each other, and for both of them to earn this is just unbelievable.”
The top-seeded Red Elephants programs produced 3-1 wins against the Winder-Barrow boys and Lanier girls on Wednesday, April 11, at Longwood Park in Gainesville to clinch No. 1 seeds in the state tournament, which begins next week.
For the Gainesville girls, this region championship was their third in a row and sixth over the last eight years.
On the boys side, however, their first region title since 2015 was a bit unexpected.
“Back when we had tryouts, I never thought we’d be able to beat all the teams in this region and win it,” said Weaver, whose team faces Centennial in the first round of the playoffs. “We set it as a goal, for sure, but realistically, it wasn’t a thought I had. But during the regular season, we won every region match and then won it here.
“The guys showed up today and yesterday, and they did what they should have done. This thing could have turned on a dime and gone the other way, but the players stepped up all year long and honestly surprised me.”
The Red Elephants received the clinching point from the No. 2 doubles team of Joseph Diaz/Michael Head, which rallied from a 2-1 hole to claim the opening set, 7-5.
The duo trailed by the same margin in the second set before battling to a 5-4 lead. Gainesville’s players who had completed their lines crowded around the court and watched eagerly as Diaz/Head held on for a 6-4 win after a series of hotly contested points.
“When I finished (on No. 1 doubles), I went right over to them,” said Max Wuest, the Red Elephants’ lone senior and team captain. “I knew we had won one and lost one in singles, so we needed No. 2 doubles or No. 3 singles to win.
“Every point was very, very intense in that doubles match.”
Wuest and teammate Caleb Anderson had given Gainesville some breathing room with a 6-1, 6-3 win in No. 1 doubles. That came shortly after No. 2 singles player Dylan Pineda breezed to a 6-1, 6-1 victory to offset a loss in No. 1 singles by Matthew Carter.
Ben Burns, whose improvement Weaver cited as a big reason for his team’s success, was ahead 4-1 in No. 3 singles when Diaz/Head clinched the victory.
The Lady Red Elephants’ match was a bit more nerve-wracking for the team’s fans, especially after the No. 1 doubles tandem of Paige Patterson/Hannah Williams quickly fell behind, 3-0.
But the pair won the next four games en route to a first-set victory. Patterson/Williams were settled in for the second set, which ended with a 6-2 win that served as the deciding point in Gainesville’s third consecutive region title.
“We started out a little timid and nervous,” Patterson said. “But coach Gruhn came over to us and told us we couldn’t dig a deeper hole for ourselves. Hannah’s just a freshman, but she came back with some awesome serving and we won the next four. It was a great experience.”
Madi Kiser took a much-needed point in No. 2 doubles with an easy win, which Gruhn called her best performance of the season.
The other singles line went to No. 1 player Ali Waggoner, whose victory gave the Lady Red Elephants their first point. Savannah Brown/Grayson Wagner played a highly competitive match in No. 2 doubles but walked away with a narrow loss.
No. 3 singles player Grace O’Keefe had barely made it through one game in front of a small audience by the time Patterson/Williams clinched the match.
At that point, most spectators and the boys teams had flocked to the No. 1 doubles court to see if Gainesville could seal the deal. Among them was Wuest, still clutching the region championship trophy and grinning from ear to ear.
“This feels great,” he said. “The past two years, we kind of got messed up our chances to win the region. We went in as the No. 2 seed last year and had beaten almost everyone in the regular season, then we didn’t win at the region tournament, and it was the same thing the year before.
“I was just a freshman on the JV team the last time we won region in 2015, so this one is definitely better.”
Getting to win alongside the girls team made it even sweeter.