Belen High School junior Derek Lynch overcame a sore shoulder, the flu and cramps in his quest for the Class 4A state individual tennis title. But he couldn’t overcome tournament favorite Jason Schultz of St. Pius X.
After splitting the first two sets of the championship final match on Thursday at the Albuquerque Tennis Complex, Schultz took over in the third set to claim a 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 victory.
Lynch, who sat out a match two weeks earlier due to a sore shoulder, who came down with flu symptoms on Monday, and who was experiencing cramps in his legs all day on Thursday, fought gallantly.
Afterwards, a clearly exhausted Lynch refused to use any of the aforementioned ailments as an excuse for his defeat. “No, no. He just dominated the third set,” Lynch said of the St. Pius senior. “I didn’t have a chance. … He dominated every point.”
Though Schultz also won the first set 6-1, he did not, by any means, dominate.
“He (Lynch) had a couple of game points, and, if he would have converted those, the first set might have been different,” said Belen boys coach Tom Sanchez. “A couple of points here or there and it might have been a little bit different.”
Still, it looked as though Schultz would simply wear down Lynch. But things soon changed.
“I was really nervous at first. I was playing for my first state title,” Lynch said. “I got a feel for him after the first set, and I settled down. I was hitting my strokes perfect.”
Lynch held service to open the second set and got an early service break to take control, but Schultz broke back to close the gap to 3-2.
After that, Lynch began hitting perfectly placed winners and allowing Schultz to make unforced errors.
Having evened the match at one set apiece, Lynch had new life, starting the decisive set with new balls and the serve. But Schultz, who had beaten Lynch 6-3, 6-4 early in the season and who won the Albuquerque city championship two weeks earlier, broke serve and carried the momentum the rest of the way.
Lynch never gave up, though. “He’s a fighter,” Sanchez said. “He won’t give up on anything. He tries every point.”
Lynch left the court physically spent. “I had to dig into the reserves today,” he said. “I used all my energy right there. I absolutely have no more energy left.”
Lynch had to use more energy than he would have liked to in the semifinal against Los Alamos’ Ryan Hook, played early that morning. He began to experience severe leg cramps in the first set but managed to win 6-4.
“If I stopped, that’s when I’d cramp up,” he said. “If I kept my feet moving, I was OK.”
Playing through the pain, he lost the second set 7-2 in a tie-breaker. Then, after falling behind in the third set, Lynch dug deep and pulled out the third set 7-5.
Against Schultz in the final, Lynch said he felt cramps during long points but nothing like those he felt in the morning match. He would offer no excuses for the loss. And though he wanted desperately to win, he conceded that the better player won.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way I played. It was a good match,” he said. “He’s a good player. He played a good third set.”
Schultz, a graduating senior, won’t be an obstacle for Lynch next year when he tries for the title again. And, hopefully, neither will a sore shoulder, the flu or leg cramps.
When asked whether he might already be the favorite to win next year, Lynch laughed and said, “You never know what’s going to happen. There might me a foreign exchange student or somebody might step up. It’s not going to be easy next year at all. I’m definitely going to have to work.”
Getting to the final again and having another chance to win is all he can ask.
“Look out for him next year. He’ll be back,” coach Sanchez said.