Photo by Roy Mata
Casey Sutton and Nemo Niess were on the same page during the UIL Tennis State Tournament Monday and Tuesday, capturing the Class 5A mixed doubles crown Tuesday.
With every passing point, Westlake’s Nemo Niess belted out to teammate Casey Sutton how close they were to securing a state title Tuesday.
Refusing to let a first-set loss set the tone for the match, Sutton and Niess rallied from behind to capture the UIL Tennis State Championship mixed doubles title with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win.
After losing that first set, the Chaparral duo fell behind in the second set before finding its stride midway through the second frame.
With Sutton serving match point in the final set, Niess nailed a return shot that perfectly split opponents Lucas Fumagalli and TJ Fumagalli of New Braunfels, then flung off his cap with a roar and ran to hug Sutton.
Two more state medals for Westlake tennis, and a second-straight title for Sutton.
“It’s the end – you gotta leave it all out there,” Niess said. “There are no matches past this point, you just gotta empty the tank.”
The mixed pair were down 4-2 in the second set before rallying for the 7-5 win to force the third set.
Sutton drew upon her state title in mixed doubles last season, when she played and won with 2012 Westlake graduate Ryan Meek. Meek had to serve for the win last year, and Sutton was in the same spot this season.
“I was so nervous because I remember talking to Ryan after last year, and he was saying how nervous he was to serve for the match,” Sutton said. “I didn’t really think about it until I had to serve for the match. This one might be better just because it’s two times, that’s the first time in Westlake tennis history.”
Niess and Sutton, both seniors, have played tennis together and maintained a close friendship since their childhood, when their moms would play tennis together.
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner to finish off with,” Sutton said. “He and I have been talking about this since we were 6 years old. It’s just perfect to grow up and finish off with him.”
Niess added, “It’s great, it’s kind of a dream come true. The best way to end a season.”
It’s the first time a mixed team has won back-to-back titles at Westlake, and the first time someone has won a title with one partner, then with another partner the following season. After a grinding, draining first day of tennis with lengthy weather delays that forced action to end near 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday’s 9 a.m. start time made energy a concern.
“I definitely felt like we had a few cards stacked against us,” Westlake tennis coach Kim Riley said. “Of course to lose that first set, and to be down 2-4, to climb all the way out of that hole is amazing for them to do that.
“They just weren’t gonna let that be the way they were gonna end their high school career.”
In the third set, Niess had two straight spikes to bring the score to 30-30, then 40-30 in favor of Westlake with the score at 5-3.
After a Sutton serve, Niess went backhand and put the shot where nobody could touch it.
“We knew we were playing well enough to where we could make it competitive,” Niess said. “We just had to come out full of energy and put the pressure on them.”
Sutton sensed the New Braunfels tandem getting down on themselves when things started to turn, and the Unicorns didn’t have state experience to draw on.
“You could tell she [TJ Fumagalli] was getting super tight, and the guy hadn’t been in that situation, so he was getting tight,” Sutton said. “I just knew what to expect so that really helped us keep our confidence and keep going for our shots. I felt like at some point we got the momentum going. You see them falling down and we kept going, keeping them down, and didn’t give them a chance to get back in it.”
On the way out of the courts for the final time as a high school competitor, Sutton and Niess both gathered with friends with the gold state medals dangling around their necks.
“It’s just the perfect ending here,” Sutton concluded.
After multiple delays, Sutton and Niess struck quick to also advance to Tuesday’s title match.
The duo had to wait throughmore than two hours of lightning and rain delays before getting their shot at the championship.
Sutton, who won a state title in mixed doubles a season ago, and Niess came out aggressive to set the tone in the semifinal match against Dustin Douglas and Shayne Cook of Abilene Cooper en route to a straight-set victory.
“Breaking his serve right of the bat – I could tell their energy went down and we were pumped up,” Niess said.
The Chaparrals then readied for Tuesday’s finals foes.
“I’ve been there last year, so I know what to expect with all that,” Sutton said. “We know each other’s style, and the friendship helps out with everything.”
Sophomore Fernanda Contreras and senior Meredith Hopson of Westlake both made the semifinals of girls singles Monday but fell short of the title match.