Clear Creek High School’s Carter Crookston was nothing but solid gold Friday morning.
After a heartbreaking silver-medal finish last year in the boys doubles, Crookston took matters into his own hands and convincingly won the singles at the University Interscholastic League Class 6A State Tennis Championships held at Texas A&M University’s George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
“I was glad I could redeem myself and win for my school,” Crookston said following his 6-4, 6-2 finals victory over San Antonio Reagan’s Kyle Totorica.
“This means more to me than any of my USTA (United States Tennis Association) wins because I was winning for my school. That’s why I was so nervous.”
Crookston actually found himself trailing in the first set, 4-3, but reeled off three straight games, breaking Totorica in the ninth and then serving it out, hitting a two-hander too tough for the Reagan freshman to handle on set point No. 2.
Then, in the second set, Crookston steadily wore down Tortorica with pinpoint groundstrokes to all parts of the court.
“That was my goal,” Crookston said. “I wasn’t feeling 100 percent physically, so I had to change and not let him run me.”
Crookston, who admitted was a tad winded after Thursday’s semifinal in extreme heat against The Woodlands’ Garrett Skelly, said Totorica’s unorthodox style of play, “keeping the ball super low,” caused him havoc at times in the early goings.
“We were trying to figure (Totorica) out those first four to six games,” Clear Creek head tennis coach Derick Geise said. “We tried to move him side to side, corner to corner.
“It seemed to work. (Totorica) was struggling hitting balls on the run.”
In the second set, the two exchanged service breaks for a 2-2 deadlock before Crookston regained the lead with another service break in the fifth game.
From there, Crookston was in complete control, holding serve and breaking once more for a 5-2 advantage.
Crookston, serving for the win, started off the decisive game with a high volley winner, then extended the lead to 40-15 and double match point with a powerful backhand.
Totorica saved two match points before Crookston answered with the next two points, the latter a Totorica backhand into the net.
The finals win was the first state boys’ singles championship for a Clear Creek player since Tom Weber did so in 1980.
“It feels great,” Crookston said. “Last year was upsetting, but it was a great experience getting to play doubles with Michael (Raji). That experience helped, definitely.
“I knew going in (Totorica) being a younger player, he had to be more nervous than me with no state experience. I used that experience to my advantage.”
“It’s natural for Carter to get nervous but he doesn’t show it,” Geise added. “He’s so calm and collected.”
Crookston was the second Clear Creek Independent School District student-athlete to walk away with a state medal from the two-day tournament.
Clear Springs’ Alli Schwartz turned in an impressive showing as a freshman, as well, winning bronze in the girls singles.
The UIL meet also featured Class 5A appearances in doubles by the Friendswood teams of Race Haas/Noah Smistad (boys) and Maura Mitchell/Quinn Radtke (girls).