With a powerful serve and aggressive all-court game, Centreville senior Michael James keeps most opponents from forcing critical points in matches. But in Friday's Virginia AAA tennis tournament, the two-time All-Met proved he can win big points in tight matches, too.
James, the defending state champion, advanced to Saturday's final with a 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) victory over Randy Loden of Mills Goodwin at the Huntington Park Tennis Center. He will face junior Brock Newton of Patrick Henry-Roanoke, who cruised to his first state final with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Chantilly All-Met sophomore Thomas Nolan.
When James won the singles title last year, he dropped only five games in three state tournament matches. In two matches Friday, James dropped 18 games (he defeated Martin King of Kecoughtan, 6-3, 6-4, in the quarterfinals).
In the first set of the semifinals, James raced to a 5-2 lead, moving Loden around the court with his groundstrokes. But Loden fought back by holding serve twice and breaking James, tying the match at 5. James won the next game on his serve and scored a break when Loden had consecutive unforced errors, including hitting an overhead into the net on the final point.
"If [Loden] is not running, then that means he's going to try to take control of the point," James said. "He started to play better, and I started to spray the ball a little. I was waiting for him to make errors."
Loden took early control in the second set with a 3-1 lead, but faltered when he had two chances to break James. Loden still managed to send the match into a tiebreaker, but James dominated there, coming up with an array of forehand winners and passing shots.
In the other semifinal, Nolan was attempting to make his first appearance in the state final. He didn't play in states last year after breaking his arm. But unforced errors got the best of Nolan against Newton.
"That was pretty disappointing," Nolan said. "I just made too many errors. I was hitting the ball just wide or long and some of the shots weren't even close. It was ugly."
In doubles, Peden Nichols and William Pelak of Jefferson advanced to Saturday's semifinals with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Chris Maroon and Cambridge Hines of Cox. Nichols and Pelak will face Newton and Tyler Early in the semifinals; the other semifinal pits Sean Duggan and James against Brian Calhoun and Loden. James and Duggan topped Austin Brawley and Reid Jordan of Cox, 7-5, 6-2.
Loudoun Co. Girls in AA Final
It took the Loudoun County girls' tennis team barely 90 minutes to earn the chance to defend its Virginia AA championship.
The Raiders won five singles matches -- all in straight sets -- in a 5-0 victory against Abingdon at Radford University. Loudoun County (18-3) will face Jamestown in Saturday's state final.
Mindy Hsiao, Laura Halley, Lauren Dyer, Mary Kearl and Amy Sarver were singles winners for the Raiders, who defeated Jamestown in the state final a year ago. . . .
Handley got five straight-sets wins in singles to defeat Abingdon, 5-1, and advance to Saturday's AA state boys' team championship in Blacksburg. The Judges, state titlists two of the past three years, will play Hidden Valley, a 5-0 winner over York.
In the Virginia A boys' semifinals, George Mason topped Radford, 5-1, and will play J.I. Burton in Saturday's final. George Mason's toughest match came at No. 2 singles, where Colin Ehmer beat Radford's William Hwang, 7-5, 6-7 (8-6), 6-4.