The stormy weather that moved the morning session of Friday's KHSAA State Tennis Tournament to the Lexington Tennis Club foreshadowed the intensity of Lexington Christian Academy's top-ranked girls' doubles team in the afternoon.
Back outside on the University of Kentucky courts, the second-seeded tandem of LCA senior McKinley Mason and junior Lyndsey Pickett edged Sacred Heart seniors and No. 5 seeds Grace Wainwright and Taylor Musselman 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. The quarterfinal match was heated, with players voicing their frustrations and disagreeing with calls several times.
"That was our most intense match of the year," Rocky Mason, the LCA assistant head coach and McKinley's father, said. "All credit to Sacred Heart; (its) players played a great match, also."
Sacred Heart co-head coach Kristen English said she wasn't surprised with the "testy" behavior. Wainwright and Musselman, the No. 2 doubles pair for their team, weren't happy, she said, with the slightly higher seeding Pickett and Mason earned over Sacred Heart's top-ranked tandem, sophomore Kaelin Roberts and junior Ashley Williams.
Just like Sacred Heart, LCA entered the tournament with two top-10 teams. The Eagles also had an 11th Region title, thanks in large part to the all-LCA doubles finals between Mason and Pickett and seventh-seeded senior Shelby Eden and junior Laura Hayes.
So Friday's afternoon session wasn't an anomaly for LCA. Teams routinely gun for the Eagles in girls' doubles because they consistently produce high seeds.
"We work really hard on our doubles program; that's one thing we emphasize and work very hard on throughout the season," Rocky Mason said.
His daughter is a two-time state runner-up in doubles. However, this season is Mason's first with Pickett, a former singles player, as her doubles partner.
"We've been friends for as long as I can remember so, when my friend Elle (Coldiron) graduated, we just talked about becoming doubles partners, and it's been a great experience," Mason said. "I love (Pickett)."
Eden and Hayes competed as a pair for the first time this season, too. Eden's partner last year, Abby Dorton, made the transition to singles because of a lack of depth, which paved the way for Hayes to compete in doubles.
"Every year, we look at the talent and really try to pair up the players based on their abilities and their cohesiveness," Rocky Mason said.
After both LCA pairings cruised through the opening day with two straight sets victories apiece, the Eagles were poised Friday to put at least one team through to the final day.
Mason and Pickett started by dispatching Corbin's top pair, junior Erin Hart and sixth-grader Jaclyn Jewell, in the round of 16, 6-2, 6-0.
Corbin Coach Donnie Head said his team played LCA earlier in the season, but Mason and Pickett didn't play his top pair in that match. Instead, Hart and Jewell played and lost to LCA's No. 2 team, which Head said demonstrates the Eagles' depth.
However, LCA's Eden and Hayes fell 7-5, 6-3 to Paris' duo of sisters, senior Christine Invergo and sophomore Emily Invergo, erasing any chance of an all-LCA finals rematch in this tournament.
"It's not disappointing at all (to have lost); it's really hard to get to this point of the state tournament," Eden said. "Not everyone gets to do that."
Another LCA and Sacred Heart matchup might still happen, though, because Sacred Heart's No. 1 pair, Roberts and Williams, is in the semifinals on the other side of the bracket.
"Both years (Mason) lost in the final, she's taken away positive experiences from her appearances," her father said. He added that her experience might play a factor this time.
Said McKinley Mason: "If I did (win the title), it would mean a lot, we'll just see if we can this year."