Before yesterday's Northern Region tennis final, Centreville senior Michael James was a bit jittery. To calm down, he spoke to his parents and doubles partner Sean Duggan.
But James downed some chicken nuggets and a burger before he successfully defended his Virginia AAA Northern Region title with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Chantilly sophomore Thomas Nolan at Wakefield High School.
Then James and Duggan took the regional title with a victory over Jefferson's Peden Nichols and Will Pelak, 6-1, 6-2.
All of the Northern Region finalists qualified for next month's AAA state tournament at Huntington Park Tennis Center in Newport News.
"I actually was a little nervous in the first singles set," Nolan said. "He hit good lobs and passing shots. We know each other's game. There are no surprises and we're pretty even. The games against [Nolan] are always close."
Indeed, the first set of their singles match was as close as ever. James had not lost to Nolan in the three previous meetings. However, Nolan quickly jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first set.
But the Penn State-bound James rallied to even the match with a combination of passing shots and accurate baseline play.
With the first set tied at 5, James hit a cross-court passing shot. Two points later, he hit a commanding overhead smash, demonstrating his deftness with power and finesse. James won the first set and it took a little more than an hour to complete.
The second set was considerably quicker as James took the set in 42 minutes. James raced to a 5-0 lead before Nolan took his only game of the second set.
"I just got too tired. He just had me on the defense and he never quit attacking," said Nolan, who finished with 13 victories while all four of his losses came at the hands of James. "It's always exciting to play him. Next year, I hope to be doing what he's doing."
James's aggressive play translated into another strong match in doubles competition.
"Obviously, it was my singles which is getting me to Penn State, but I concentrate equally on both the singles and doubles game," he said.
James and Duggan took the doubles title from the Jefferson duo. Although it was another title defense for James, this is the first year he had been teamed with Duggan, a junior.
"When we serve, I don't think we can lose," James said. "That's a pretty good feeling to have. They [Nichols and Pelak] always play really great. We got lucky a few times, but I don't think we ever thought we were in a hole big enough we couldn't get out of."
Duggan added: "He makes sure I'm ready on the court. I'm really excited about winning this one."