Pusch Ridge beat Ironwood Ridge 8-1 Thursday, two days after beating Salpointe 5-4. For the Lions, it appears to be business as usual.
Pusch Ridge won a 3A state championship in 2011, finished runner-up in 2012, won a D-III state championship in 2013, took another runner-up the next year and finished in the semifinal round in 2015. In short, the Lions were one of the dominate forces in “small-school” tennis in the first part of this decade.
That designation ended in 2016 when the program shifted to D-II and was matched up against much larger power-programs like Salpointe and Catalina Foothills. Unfazed, the Lions finished the season with an 18-1 record, beat the Lancers in the state semifinal round and then took runner-up to Catalina Foothills.
That 2016 team was led, in part, by Shawn Parks. Parks earned a No. 3 ranking and ultimately took fourth place in the D-II singles competition but Parks is no longer with the program. Never fear, Preston Grammond is the new No. 1 for the Lions.
Only a freshman, Grammond teamed up with Jarod Bristol last year and the duo took fourth place in the doubles competition. Grammond is now serving on the top court, sure to be a favorite to win the D-III singles state championship this spring. Yes, D-III.
Pusch Ridge was moved back to D-III over the summer in the new alignment configuration and the move has the Lions back in the driver’s seat.
“My aim is to win the championship this year,” Grammond said. “I use my big serve to set up my forehand and I can rally if I need to. We also have a great team and if we are unable to get it this year I’m sure we will snag it next year.”
Pusch Ridge (4-1) is currently ranked No. 6 in the AIA/MaxPreps Power Rankings but the loss was to D-II No. 3 Catalina Foothills in the first match of the season.
Ironwood Ridge (4-3) was also a state power with four state championships and two runner-up finishes between 2007 and 2013. The Nighthawks had back-to-back D-II quarterfinal finishes in 2014 and 2015 but the team ended the 2016 campaign with a 3-11 record, missing the state playoffs as a team for the first time since 2005.
Carlos Bernabe teamed up with Jared Pastor last year and the doubles team made it to the third round. Pastor graduated but Bernabe returns for his sophomore year.
The doubles team of Nick Chenault and Ben Behrens scored the only point for the Nighthawks against Pusch Ridge. Like Bernabe, Chenault and Behrens are only sophomores.
Ironwood Ridge will travel to Rincon/University (2-3) on Tuesday, Mar. 28. The Rangers are ranked No. 28 in D-I. Pusch Ridge will visit Desert Christian (5-3) on Friday. The Eagles are ranked No. 25 in D-III action.