Lambert’s Taylor Despriet could feel the pressure mounting and her energy draining.
Competing in the pivotal match of the Class 7A state championship against Milton on Monday, she and doubles partner Katie Lewis were the center of attention of a gathered crowd at Lambert’s tennis courts, where they were trying to finally wrap up a matchup that was partially postponed on Saturday due to rain.
While Lambert left the Rome Tennis Center up 2-1 on Saturday, Despriet and Lewis trailed 1-0 against a Milton duo that had given them fits all day. When play resumed at Lambert on Monday, their pressure to mount a comeback exponentially increased when the No. 2 doubles team of Kate Dufresne and Kaitlyn Hoxie fell in their third set. With the overall matchup tied 2-2, clinching the state championship was up to Despriet and Lewis.
“I was really tired and I was really tight, and that caused me to miss some important points,” Despriet said. “But I had to regroup, and Katie kept me calm.”
Ultimately, the two saved their best tennis for when it mattered most. They clawed back to tie the match at one set apiece and broke serve three times in the decisive third set, and after a shot from Milton sailed out to the duo’s left, they took a 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory to complete their comeback and secure Lambert a state title just a year removed from coming just one set short.
It was quite the birthday present for Despriet, who was serenaded with an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ by her teammates after they mobbed her on the court in celebration.
“I'm always going to remember this one,” Despriet said. “I went into that match just hoping to win that second set. It couldn't have been better.”
For head coach Lois Mickles, Despriet’s performance was confirmation of a midseason decision to move her to doubles from No. 1 singles. Her abilities in doubles play were just what Lambert needed in that spot to come out on top.
“I moved her from 1 singles to 1 doubles for this exact reason,” Mickles said. “Her versatility is unmatched. The arsenal of different shots that she has is so perfect for the doubles game, and I just knew that it was going to come down to this. I just knew it. We don't win if she's not there -- it's that simple.”
The unexpected break in play turned out to be beneficial for Lambert. The Longhorns noticed that one of Milton’s No. 1 doubles players was camping in the middle of the court and poaching shots on Saturday, so on Sunday, they met and practiced ways to pull her off.
“The whole game plan was break and serve,” Mickles said. “If we could get that accomplished, then that was going to be it, and that's exactly what happened.”
Before leaving Rome on Saturday, the Longhorns were rightfully nervous facing a team they’d split with over the course of the season. Cheyanne Brooks secured a 6-2, 6-4 win in No. 1 singles and Brooke Despriet took a 6-1, 6-0 win in No. 2 singles to put the Longhorns in front, but they knew the Eagles would make it tough. It turned out to be a similar finish to last year, but Lambert is happy to be on the other end of things.
“I'm proud of these girls,” Mickles said. “It was a fight to the finish. To be so close last year, we were hungry. I couldn't be more proud of them.”