FRIENDSWOOD – Friendswood High School’s Joann Karam and Justin Vu have been the best of friends since their freshmen year.
The two will put that friendship to a true test Monday when the Mustangs open play in the University Interscholastic League Class 4A State Tennis Championships at the University of Texas’ Penick-Allison Tennis Center in Austin.
Karam and Vu, the District 24 and Region III mixed doubles champions, will face Dripping Springs’ Sarah and Samuel Brodsky, a first-round opponent neither knows much, if anything, about.
“All I know is that they have the same last name,” Karam jokingly said, looking ahead to the 11:30 a.m. quarterfinal matchup. “We’ll evaluate (the Brodsky’s) during the warm-up. We’ve had to do that all spring season.”
“We both find a way to make it work,” Vu added.
That’s where the friendship part comes into play, knowing one can count on the other at all times, even on the tennis courts.
“We have real good chemistry,” Vu said. “We talk a lot on the court and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Added Karam: “I feel like we both take charge in different ways. He’s all over the net, and I try to stay aggressive with my serve. He keeps me motivated. I keep him motivated. It’s a team effort when it comes to that.”
Karam and Vu qualified for state in impressive fashion, breezing through the district tournament as predicted, then duplicating that performance at regionals with back-to-back steamrolls against the top two seeds.
Seeded only No. 3, Karam and Vu first shocked Montgomery’s No. 2 seeds in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-4, and followed with a 6-1, 6-2 no-doubt upset of Tomball Memorial’s No. 1 seed in the final.
Like his regional champions, Friendswood coach David Cook has little to go by about the Brodsky’s, other than they qualified as Region IV’s runners-up.
“The hard part when playing teams from across the state’s other regions is we won’t have much information about our competitors ahead of time, and everyone will be pretty strong.
“We are three wins away from winning a state title, and I don’t expect any of them to be easy.”
A win against the Bradsky’s would advance Karam and Vu to Monday’s 3 p.m. semifinals against either Dallas Highland Park or Wichita Falls Rider, with the championship match set for 9 a.m. Tuesday.
But first things first, and that means finding a way to get past Dripping Springs.
“Justin and I have been training real hard,” Karam said. “We’ve been talking about this since the spring season started. We work well together. I feel like we have a good connection.
“We’ve set our goals high. I myself am very confident and very excited. It’s our senior year, and we want to bring back the gold.”
A big plus in the Mustangs’ favor is the fact Karam, as a sophomore, played in the state tournament in the same event two years ago with then-partner Kent Tollette.
Karam and Tollette won their first match against Wichita Falls Rider, then fell to eventual runner-up Boerne Champion in the semifinals.
“I think that’ll play to our advantage, for sure,” Karam said of her previous state experience. “I’ve already been there and know what it’s like.
“But it’s the same game, the same court dimensions we’ve been playing all our lives. With both of us being super-champs, we’re both very competitive and know what it takes to win.”
“Yeah, Joann’s been coaching me,” Vu said with a smile. “She knows the environment and pressure state puts you through.
“I’m a little bit both nervous and excited, but the best players in the state will be there, and challenges like that bring out the best in me. It’s our senior year, and I want us to do well.”
Cook wouldn’t expect anything less from either player.
“To get to the state tournament is an achievement in itself, but we can’t be too excited by that right now,” Cook said. “If we play as well as we did in our regional tournament, we have as good a chance as anybody.”
And for Karam and Vu, winning it all as friends would be the ultimate.
UIL State Tennis Tournament
WHAT: Friendswood High School’s mixed doubles team of Joann Karam and Justin Vu
WHEN: 4A mixed doubles quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. Monday with semifinals at 3 p.m. Monday; championship is 9 a.m. Tuesday
WHERE: University of Texas’ Penick-Allison Tennis Center in Austin