Russell sophomore Kierstin Hensley and eighth-grader Maci Ferguson were surprise doubles champions in the KHSAA State Tennis Tournament at the University of Kentucky Boone/Downing Tennis Complex on Saturday.
Hensley and Ferguson relied on a methodical baseline game to beat Makenna Garneau and Madelyn Kauffman of McCracken County 6-4, 6-3 in the finals.
It was Russell's first state title since Julie Ditty repeated as singles champ in 1997, and the school's first doubles crown since Jenny Ditty and Allison Rowe won in 1993.
"We're honored to be the team to bring the title back to Russell," said Coach Larra Ferguson, Maci's mom.
Larra Ferguson didn't really think it could happen.
In fact, Hensley disclosed that her coach checked out of her hotel room before fourth-seeded Russell played top-seeded Louisville Collegiate in Friday's quarterfinals.
"Because she didn't think we could win," Hensley said.
When Collegiate waxed Russell 6-0 in the first set, it wasn't a shock.
That's when Larra Ferguson changed her team's strategy by pulling them away from the net in hopes of frustrating Collegiate with a steady baseline game.
It worked. Maci and Kierstin rallied to win the second set 6-4, then crushed Collegiate 10-0 in the tiebreaker.
Buoyed by that upset, the Russell duo played their way to the state title, beating fifth-seeded McCracken in the finals.
"This is a surprise, a very pleasant surprise," Larra Ferguson said. "These girls made it to the semifinals last year, so we knew all along the chance was there to win, but we knew it'd be a hard road."
Maci and Kierstin shed tears of joy after the championship match, and wrapped their arms around each other in a congratulatory hug.
"I wouldn't want to be here with anybody else but that girl (Maci)," Hensley said. "She's my best friend and she's like my little sister. And Larra is just like a mom to me."
Larra Ferguson was emotionally spent after watching her daughter share in a state championship.
"Oh my goodness, it's surreal right now," she said. "It's nerve-wracking to be a coach, and it's nerve-wracking to be a mother. But when you're the coach and the mother, it's kind of tough."
McCracken County did have the singles champion in third-seeded Michelle McKamey, who beat Meredith Laskey of Highlands 6-4, 6-1 in the finals.
The fourth-seeded Laskey knocked off top-seeded and defending champ Madeline Rolph of Sayre in the semifinals, but she couldn't pull off a repeat against McKamey.
McKamey, a freshman, was ecstatic after her victory.
"I'm beyond happy," she said. "I'm so excited right now because I can see everything I've worked for has paid off."
Perennial power St. Xavier had a big week at UK. After winning the team championship on Thursday, the Tigers swept the singles and doubles on Saturday.
"This is something we've been shooting for the last couple of years," said singles champ Brandon Lancaster. "It's pretty nice to get it."
Lancaster outlasted defending champ Austin Hussey of Covington Catholic. After losing the first set 5-7, Lancaster took the second 6-2, then prevailed 10-8 in the tie-breaker.
It was a turnaround from last May when Hussey beat Lancaster 6-4, 7-5 to take the title.
"That match lasted about three hours, so I expected this year to be another battle," Lancaster said.
St. X couldn't lose in the doubles since the Tigers were on both sides of the net in title match.
St. X junior Nick Waldeck and sophomore Matt Graft beat senior teammates Coleman Cox and Nick Quinones 6-4, 4-6, 10-8.