BLACKSBURG – Natalie Kim and Sammy Finnegan have known each other for a while. They were first competitors in tournament play when they were younger, then became doubles partners as freshmen at Maggie Walker. They also got close to the grand prize that season, reaching states but falling short.
But after building their partnership together on the court for three years, the juniors have become state champions together in doubles, winning Friday’s Class 2 final over Radford’s Kathleen Reuwer and Harper Minarik on twin sets of 6-3.
“It was honestly such a great feeling…I think winning is really validating to how we’ve developed our doubles game together,” Finnegan said, “and how we’ve worked so well together.”
“And it’s really special,” Kim added smiling. “We’ve been on this journey for a long time and to finally make it, it’s really awesome.”
To assistant coach Mike Miller, it’s been terrific to watch the two players’ commitment both to their games and to each other.
“When one is slightly off or losing confidence, the other will pick the other one up, and that goes both ways,” Miller said. “On a premier doubles team like they are, that’s so critical, because the match just isn’t going to go your way all the way against good teams like this…so the more that they can pick each other up and decide: ‘This is working,’ ‘this isn’t working,’ that’s why they are so special together, and it’s why they’re successful.”
They complement – and compliment – each other well.
“She’s fantastic at the net,” Finnegan said of Kim. “There are shots she hits that I don’t think are like physically possible…they’re just so good!”
“And to complement that, she sets me up so well!” Kim said of Finnegan. “She hits…super-hard shots and that sets me up.”
Both players brought the power on Friday, striking several no-doubt overheads and crushing multiple forehand winners that sliced all the way to the lower edges and baseline of the opponents’ court. And between Finnegan’s volleys and Kim’s angling, the duo hammered several short-distance winners across the net not only in the final, but earlier that morning in a 6-2, 6-3 state semifinals victory over George Mason’s Maria Morris and Ciel Park.
The pair also persevered against a tough Radford duo in Reuwer and Minarik. Kim and Finnegan set the tone for the match that would follow when they rallied out of a 30-0 first-game hole on four straight points – including two net winners from Kim – to grab a 1-0 lead. They also came back from even further down at 40-0 while leading the first set 4-3, with Finnegan delivering the break point on an overhead strike to set up a quick game that the Maggie Walker pair won to take the first set.
Radford’s pair also tied them in the second set 3-3, but Kim and Finnegan pulled away in the last three games to capture their first doubles title.
“I think one of the biggest problems with playing a player that’s so good is just kind of keeping your stamina going,” Finnegan said. “We won the first set, and then it’s like: Okay, you’ve got this, but…because they’re so good, if you go back into kind of your A-minus game, even then you will lose the match. You’ve got to keep your stamina and keep that energy up the entire match.”
Winning doubles gives them confidence going into Maggie Walker’s team state championship contest against Gate City on Saturday, but Kim noted: “We can’t go into it thinking, ‘Okay, we’re good, we’re going to win.’ We have to definitely kind of reset and go back to: we have to play our game, play strong and see what happens.”
“Nothing’s given to us,” Miller said. “We have to earn it each point, each match.”
Hobbs, Pridgen end doubles run in semifinals
Maggie Walker’s William Hobbs and Casey Pridgen, the Region 2A champions in doubles, saw their postseason run come to the end at the hands of George Mason’s Miles Heffernan and Chris Kim, 6-2 and 6-3 in the Class 2 state semifinals. Pridgen and Hobbs didn’t go away in the second set, coming back to tie it up at three games apiece, but Heffernan and Kim grabbed the last three games to advance to the final.
“It’s definitely special – obviously wish we could’ve won the match, but it’s definitely an honor to make it to a state tournament at any level,” said Hobbs, who won two team state championships with the Dragons and had reached the regional finals for singles and doubles prior to winning the region title with Pridgen.
Hobbs, a senior, called being a part of the tennis team the highlight of his four years at Maggie Walker.
“We have a great team, a great group of guys from top to bottom,” he said. “Every single year it seems we get freshmen that are just open and just good guys, and then the upperclassmen when I was a freshman and sophomore really helped me out…they helped me to learn the stuff that I need to do to be a good captain for the team.”
Hobbs in turn got to help his junior teammate Pridgen, who said that their games on the court complemented each other really well. Hobbs as a partner helped keep him in check, Pridgen said.
“Hopefully I can bring that into the next season,” he added.
Maggie Walker Boys Tennis will play Eastside for the Class 2 team state championship Saturday morning.