Junior Derek Johnson and freshman Elton Jones won a state title in the No. 2 doubles division and each of the three singles competitors won at least one match, leading the Grand County High School boys tennis team to a second-place trophy at the UHSAA Utah State 2A Boys Tennis Championships on Saturday, May 9 in Salt Lake City.
Johnson and Jones, who finished second to San Juan’s Spencer Mitchell and Grange Simpson at the 2A South Divisional Championships on May 1, easily dispatched Rowland Hall’s Ethan Williams and Eric Kimball 6-0, 6-2 in the first round at the Sportsmall in Salt Lake City. They went on to defeat 2A North Champions James Carrington and Masen White 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals to set up a rematch with Mitchell and Simpson in the finals at the University of Utah, in which they came out on top 6-4, 6-4.
Grand County boys tennis coach Ed DeFrancia said that in the final match, Jones was serving the best he had seen him serve and Johnson was a force near the net, hitting several winners.
“The team and I dubbed Derek and Elton the comeback kids,” coach Ed DeFrancia said. “That match against St. Joseph was I think their third comeback in their last four matches. To come in at number two and beat both number ones… They were excited. They played with amazing confidence.”
DeFrancia said he and Athletic Director Ron Dolphin believe Johnson and Jones’ championship was the first individual boys tennis championship in school history. The tournament was scheduled to take place at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, but was moved indoors because of rainy weather. All singles matches were played at the University of Utah, while the first two rounds of doubles play were played at the Sportsmall and the finals were played at U of U.
Seniors Elijah Stock at No.1 singles and Alec Tatton at No. 3 singles, who both placed first in 2A South, advanced to their respective state title matches before falling to Waterford competitors. Waterford scored 14 points to place first as a team, followed by Grand with 12 points. One team point was awarded for each first-round victories, and two points were awarded for each victory in the semifinals or finals.
Stock defeated St. Joseph’s Steve Yi 6-2, 7-5 in the first round and Rowland Hall’s Aaron Friedman 7-6, 7-6 in the semifinals before falling 6-0, 6-4 to Waterford’s Quinn Pritchett in the title match. Tatton easily dispatched Rowland Hall’s Will Seahalter and San Juan’s William Heck by the same 6-2, 6-0 score before falling to Waterford’s Christian Heath 6-1, 6-4 in the finals.
“With both Alec and Elijah it was a little tense, nervous,” DeFrancia said. “They had never made it to this level before. They were slightly intimidated, and the competition was definitely a step up.”
Sophomore Nolan Beeman, 2A South Champion at No. 2 singles, defeated Layton Christian’s Gerardo Muhaz 6-4, 6-1 in the first round before losing to Manti’s Davis Hardy 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 in the semifinals. Hardy, a player Beeman had defeated earlier in the season, lost in the title match to Wasatch Academy’s Lucas Hafner, who Beeman defeated in the 2A South title match on May 1.
“Nolan was cramping in that second match,” DeFrancia said. “It was a long, arduous match and he had a hard time moving around. I can’t take anything away from (Hardy). He played the best game I’ve seen him play in three meetings this season.”
The state championships were likely the final tournament for the Red Devils with DeFrancia as coach. He retired from teaching in 2014, but was convinced by the team’s seniors to coach the boys tennis team for one more year.
“The seniors convinced me to come back for one more season and said they’d make it worth my while, and they certainly did,” DeFrancia said. “To score that many points and do that well, I was just thrilled for the entire group. I’ve said all year that from top to bottom, I think this is the best boys tennis team the school has ever had.”
Derek Johnson, Elton Jones, claim title in No. 2 doubles
“To score that many points and do that well, I was just thrilled for the entire group. I’ve said all year that from top to bottom, I think this is the best boys tennis team the school has ever had.”