Junior Derek Lynch advanced to the Class 4A state tennis tournament by winning the District 3-4A individual title on Saturday at the Belen Multi-Purpose Park courts.
Lynch earned a first-round bye in the state tournament to be played Wednesday and Thursday at the Albuquerque Tennis Complex. He will play his first match at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of a match between Danny Griffin of St. Pius X and Xavier Valencia of Artesia.
Eagle head coach Regina Elkins said Lynch has a good chance of becoming only the second Belen tennis player to win a state title. Ray Jaramillo won a state title in 1994.
“His chances are very good — better than last year,” Elkins said of Lynch, who lost in the quarterfinals a year ago. “He should do well, if his arm doesn’t get too sore.”
Lynch has been troubled by soreness in his shoulder the past few weeks, but, prior to the district tournament, he proclaimed the injury was “not a factor.”
Apparently, the shoulder didn’t trouble Lynch much during the district tournament on Saturday. He won 48 of the 58 games he played. He defeated Deming’s Andy Jaramillo 6-2, 6-2 to claim his second-straight district title.
Lynch’s biggest obstacle at the state tournament will be Jason Schultz of St. Pius X, who won the Albuquerque city tournament two weeks ago.
Schultz and Lynch met earlier this year. The St. Pius player won 6-3, 6-4.
Lynch said that defeat might actually work to his advantage. “I think, with him having already beat me, he’ll be confident and might expect it will be the same game,” he said. “But I’ve stepped up my game two steps from what it was when I first played him.”
Lynch has another factor working in his favor. Twice a week, he travels to Albuquerque for lessons with tennis pro Dave Ocho. “He (Ocho) has had 12-straight state champions, and he’s told me he’s depending on me for the 13th,” Lynch said.
While Lynch will be the lone Eagle to compete at the state tournament this year, there were a couple other close calls.
At Saturday’s district tournament, where the top three singles players and top two doubles teams qualified for state, Lady Eagle tennis player Devin Hughes advanced to the semi-finals in singles play. She took top-seeded and eventual district champion Adrianna Ramirez of Deming to three sets. Had she won, she would have qualified for state.
Hughes, a senior, still had a chance to advance if she had won the consolation match against Silver’s Jayna Boyle, a player she had beaten before this season. But Boyle prevailed this time, 6-2, 6-3.
Also, the Belen boys No. 1 doubles team of Jeremy Class and Nick Rodriguez was one win away from qualifying for state. But the Eagles lost to second-seeded Charlie Lenz and Patrick McNamara of Las Cruces Oñate, 6-0, 6-3, in the semifinals.
Though the season is over for all Belen players but Lynch, Elkins was pleased with the effort her team put forth this season. “The kids played their hearts out. They really tried,” she said.