By Johanna Gretschel / American-Statesman Correspondent
Travis Dalrymple knows a thing or two about what it means to make the UIL team tennis state tournament.
The 10-year head coach of Westwood's tennis team was a sophomore on the last Westwood squad that reached state way back in 1997. That year, one of the Warriors' top players was deemed ineligible just before state finals; without him, they couldn't pull off the win.
But this season, a cadre of Dalrymple's old teammates want to know what's going on with the undefeated Warriors, who are currently ranked No. 3 in Class 6A after winning the District 13-6A title over Vandegrift.
And they're all asking the same question: Can the Warriors make it back to state?
"The kids are playing lights out, and it's all coming together," Dalrymple says. "We're firing on all cylinders, we're tough to beat, and I'm hoping this year we can make it back to state."
Westwood's lightning rod is junior Kiana Graham, who won a state individual title as a freshman and returned to the spring state tournament last season to compete in doubles play. She is backed up by a legion of experienced senior girls.
Top male contributors include players like junior Gaurav Singh, who Dalrymple says made a major mental breakthrough while matched up against Southlake Carroll's Nick Ryniak, one of the state's highest-ranked boys players. Singh emerged for a hard-fought victory while helping the Warriors beat the state-powerhouse Dragons 10-9.
"He played a kid who is top 20 in the state and stepped up and hit every shot with confidence," Dalrymple says. "I think it was a huge turning point for him. He's always had the weapons in his arsenal, and now he's comfortable using them."
Last year, the Warriors were ranked No. 6 in the state and advanced to the regional final before bowing out of the tournament to Houston Memorial, which finished as the eventual state runners-up to Plano West.
But to reach state, the Warriors have to get through this week's regional tournament. Class 6A's Region II features five of the top 10- ranked teams in the state in the latest Texas Tennis Coaches Association poll, including No. 2 Plano West.
"Region II is the toughest region in the history of mixed tennis, in my opinion," Dalrymple says. "It's a murderers' row, and we're gonna have to bring our A game every time we step on the court."
Not that everything is hinging on making state. Far from it.
"We could lose (Tuesday) and it wouldn't take away from the season we've had," he says. "Beating Southlake Carroll, Westlake, Vandegrift. ... it's been an incredible ride. I just want to make the kids are enjoying the process. I had a great high school experience because of the tennis team, and I want to relay that to my kids. I tell them, I've been married almost 10 years, and I had eight groomsmen, and four of them were on the Westwood tennis team with me. That's what it means to me."