ST. GEORGE – Two years ago, the Snow Canyon boys tennis team got its first taste of championship tennis. Led by an up-and-coming sophomore named Matthew Morgan, the Warriors shocked perennial power Juan Diego and brought the team title back to southern Utah.
With disciplinarian coach Jeremy Atkin at the helm, SC captured that title and Morgan made it all the way to the championship in first singles before finally falling. The unexpected run through the bracket by Morgan, the No. 3 seed from Region 9, gave Snow Canyon four points, just enough to propel the Warriors to the team title (20-18) over the Soaring Eagle.
Now Morgan is back for his senior year and Snow Canyon won’t be able to sneak up on anyone anymore.
“Matt has gotten really serious about tennis as he’s matured and I think he’s a contender to win it all,” Atkin said. “He’s also developed mental toughness as far as strategizing and knowing what shots to hit at what time. In tennis, the players who are smarter, who can adjust their game to different types of opponents, are the ones who come out ahead, and that’s what he’s done.”
Morgan dominated once again on Wednesday, helping Snow Canyon defeat Dixie 5-0. He has lost just one match this season, a preseason defeat, and has shown leadership in helping the Warriors stay perfect in region play.
“Tennis, a lot of times, is about grinding it out,” Morgan said. “You try and find your opponent’s weakness and exploit it. It’s grinding. Today, I’d go to the net and he’d pass. He’d come to the net and I would pass him. So we both stayed back and waited for opportunities. We had some 20-ball points.”
Morgan beat Dixie freshman Stefan Balian 6-2, 6-0. Balian may represent the future of tennis for Dixie, but Morgan is the current big dog on the porch.
“My expertise in tennis is more along the lines of mental toughness and strength training,” Atkin said. “Matt has developed all the attributes it takes to be a strong player. Of course, it’s about skill and ability, but it’s also about the right mindset. How many kids lose to a player that they are better than? As a freshman, it was night and day from how he is now. Matt’s come a long way. He’s very focused.”
Atkin is also stoked about youngster Taylor Heinz, who won Wednesday at second singles by a 6-2, 6-4 tally over Dixie’s Grayson Dewitt. Heinz has been playing tennis for just 10 months after being introduced to the sport by current teammate (and across-the-street neighbor Josh Sodorff).
“Taylor’s been playing for 10 months and he’s doing awesome,” Atkin said. “With these younger kids who have that natural talent, as soon as they can find and realize how good they are, well, it won’t be more than a year that he’s recognized, for sure.”
Heinz, just a freshman, has improved vastly as the season has progressed. He said when Sodorff took him out to the tennis court for the first time, it just felt right.
“Josh is my best friend from across the street and he’s been playing tennis for awhile,” Heinz said. “I was just, like, whatever, I’ll try it. And I had probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I really like hanging out with the team, playing two hours every day.”
Warrior Tanner Sorenson also swept his match at third singles, beating Dixie’s Luke Burton 6-1, 6-2. Snow Canyon got a fourth sweep at second doubles when Cade Thorkelson and Broden Lund beat Rigby Pelton and Tanner Cuff 6-2, 6-0.
By far the best match of the day was at first doubles. The highly competitive contest, which lasted nearly three hours, saw Sodorff and Tanner Deal pull out the third set for a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory. All the other matches were complete for the last half of the first doubles match and the players and fans had gathered around to watch the four players battle it out in the evening sun.
After winning the first set, Sodorff and Deal led 4-3 in the second, threatening to take the match in a sweep. But Dixie’s Carson Bottema and Daniel Bethers won the next two games to go up 5-4. Sodorff-Deal held serve to make it 5-5, but Bottema-Bethers won the next two games to force the third set.
Sodorff-Deal then took an early lead to take the third set (6-3) and the match.
For Snow Canyon, another state title could be in the works if everything lines up right.
“We have the smallest team in our region due to the fact that when we do have tryouts for the team, there’s a lot of conditioning and running,” Atkin said. “We want to make sure our team is in top shape. If you’re going to play tennis for me, you’re going to have to prove you deserve to be on the Warriors team. I’ve lost good players because of it, but it’s better to have less people than it is to have a lot of people and some of them are cancerous.”
Region duels continue through April, with the Region 9 Tournament at Tonaquint set for May 5-6. State is May 12-13 at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.
Pine View is also expected to contend for the region crown. Despite Wednesday’s defeat, Dixie is hoping to challenge for a crown as well. The Flyers defeated Desert Hills 4-1 on Tuesday.
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