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Greenwood senior falls in championship match

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It wasn’t the way the Kawamoto era of Indiana high school girls tennis had been scripted to conclude — the fast-moving championship point bouncing a few feet out of racket’s reach.

Then again, Denise Azcui hadn’t entered the picture before Saturday.

Trailing 4-1 in the opening set, the Bloomington South junior rallied for a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Greenwood senior Jade Kawamoto to seize her school’s first girls state singles title.

History was going to be made either way on Court No. 1 at Park Tudor High School.

While Kawamato attempted to duplicate twin sister Jackie Kawamoto’s singles championship of a year ago, Azcui represented the first Panthers player ever to advance to the final match.

Jade Kawamoto started by breaking her opponent’s serve, only to have Azcui return the favor. Three consecutive points by Kawamoto made it appear as if she would go on to her 27th straight win this season without a loss.

It’s here Azcui began hitting her stride. And pretty much everything else.

“I started to back off a little bit and kind of lost focus for awhile. I was a little frustrated with myself, but I fought back in the second set. That helped me. But Denise played really hard and earned her title,” Kawamoto said.

“She just got every ball back and moved me around a lot. It kind of threw me off, and I got a little impatient.”

Azcui easily broke serve to pull closer, then quickly held it to suddenly add a dash of suspense to a match lacking it early. Her final three points of the first set were challenged more closely by Kawamoto, who early in the second set found herself on the wrong end of a 3-0 score.

Watching her 4-1 lead from the first set evaporate had taken its toll on Kawamoto.

“Jade just got a little tentative. That’s just unusual for her. She’s usually tentative a little bit at the start of a match. A little nervousness the first couple of games, that kind of thing,” Greenwood coach Steve Gantz said.

“Of course, Denise is a great player; she just kind of got her momentum going and Jade had trouble stepping up. Later on Jade had some forehand difficulties, and I think her confidence level just went down a little bit.

“Still, she battled. It’s two great players out there. I’m sure Jade feels like she could have done more with her usual game, but that’s what happens when you get to this level.”

Kawamoto calmly worked her way back into contention in the second set, eventually tying the score, 4-4.

Azcui then held serve and in time delivered a scalding two-handed backhand past Kawamoto for the deciding point.

The purple-shirted portion of those in attendance erupted with Azcui eventually reduced to tears afterward while hugged by friends and family members.

Jade Kawamoto had just lost the first match of her high school career. Her record this season was 26-1.

Afterward, she proved as poised as on the court. No doubt disappointed, she looked back on the Kawamoto legacy regarding Greenwood High School and Indiana girls tennis as a whole.

“It’s been a great three years for us. We both fought really hard to get where we are. We kept our focus throughout these three years and tried to get better every year,” Kawamoto said.

Hindsight being 20/20, Gantz afterward was asked if he would play Jackie Kawamoto at No. 1 singles if he had it to do again.

The analogy he uses dates back 53 years to former Johnson County residents Tom and Dick VanArsdale, Indiana’s co-Mr. Basketballs in 1961 from Indianapolis Manual High School who later starred at Indiana University.

“Like the VanArsdale’s, just two tremendous players who have had such great work ethic and they’re great kids, great students. You just expect the best out of them all the time, and that’s kind of rubbed off on some other kids,” Gantz said.

“I’ve had that asked from different people, different coaches. I just go back forever when they’ve played, and I’ve seen them every day in practice. We’ve had challenge matches ... they hate to play each other in challenge matches. I mean, they just absolutely hate it.

“Sophomore year they had a challenge match when Jackie got to play No. 1 singles and it lasted three days.”

The Kawamotos in November signed to play at the University of Dayton where during the 2014-15 school year they will form the program’s first twin doubles tandem.

Even when they leave the state they make history.

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