Semifinal play in the state tennis tournament begins Thursday (May 17) in Lexington and St. Xavier is again a heavy favorite to claim the team crown.
The Tigers are 18-0 in dual matches this season and cruised to their 30th regional title in 31 years. After downing South Oldham and Trinity in sectional play, the three-time defending champs advanced along with Lone Oak, Henry Clay and Russell.
Perhaps the most impressive player for the Tigers this postseason has been Sean Donohue.
The junior won the Sixth Region singles title in a hard-fought 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 marathon match against teammate and defending champion Alex Gornet and then crushed both of his sectional opponents in straight sets.
The regional title was Donohueâ€™s third. He won the singles crown as a freshman and was a regional and state doubles champion last season with partner Joe Siami.
This season Donohue is 16-2 with both losses coming to out-of-state opponents. St. X coach Kerry Lancaster thinks Donohue may turn some heads this weekend.
â€œSean can do a little bit of everything. Heâ€™s got a big solid serve and a good second serve,â€ said Lancaster. â€œ(The odds of him winning) are better than most people think.â€
Chris Cahill: Was it difficult to square off against Alex Gornet, your friend and teammate, in the Sixth Region singles final?
Sean Donohue: It was really hard, especially because Alex is one of my best friends and we know our games really well. Youâ€™ve got to put that aside and play with a lot of intensity and you canâ€™t back down. He might be your best friend off the court but on the court heâ€™s a straight enemy. I was kind of worried at first, but after the match and after the pictures we just hung out and talked about the match. Weâ€™re fine.
You won the regional singles title as a freshman too. How has your game evolved since then?
As a freshman I was a runner and played a lot of defense. Iâ€™m much more of an attacker now. I try to put my opponent more on the defense versus when I was a freshman and I would just try to grind my way out of matches.
Do you make any changes in your approach to matches at the state tournament?
Whatâ€™s unfortunate about playing for St. X at state is that everyone is against you. You donâ€™t know any of the players that are watching you or any of the parents watching you, but they all want you to lose. As a freshman and sophomore I struggled with the fact that I didnâ€™t know these people and they hated me, but Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that I just need to stay mentally strong and not worry about anyone else besides myself and my game and my opponent.
Do you have any rivals out in the state?
Yes. Beck Pennington, (the defending singles state champ out of Greenwood). I want to play him so badly. Heâ€™s one of the most talented players in the state â€¦big serve, excellent volleys. I want to beat him so badly.
What areas of your game are you sharpening up?
My mental game is something that I always need to work on. If you look at the pros, physically they are a lot better, but mentally theyâ€™re all insanely strong. Thatâ€™s something that I always try to work on, especially on these hot summer days when I just want to throw my racket or curse or something.
What is something most people donâ€™t know about you?
Iâ€™ve played nine years of piano. Iâ€™m a musical kind of guy and I really appreciate all different types of music. I like rap but at the same time I like classical, Bach, Mozart and jazz. When I get mad and need a stress releaser I go to the piano. Sometimes I find myself kind of losing my sense of who I am as player or person and I really like to just leave it out on the piano and re-collect myself there.
Along with sectional team winners, singles and doubles semifinalists from each region advanced to the state tournament. Semifinals are slated for Thursday and Friday with finals to be played at the following times on Saturday at the University of Kentuckyâ€™s Boone/Downing Tennis Complex:
11 a.m. Boysâ€™ Team Finals
Noon Girlsâ€™ Singles and Doubles Finals
2 p.m. Boysâ€™ Singles and Doubles Finals
4 p.m. Girlsâ€™ Team Finals
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.
Photos By CHRIS CAHILL | Contributing Photographer