By Robert Wilson

       RIDGELAND – Madison-Ridgeland Academy senior Will Hooks finished his high school career without losing a match and in the process led his team to its second straight MAIS Class 6A boys state championship.

       Hooks, fighting off leg cramps in the second and third sets, held on for a 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 victory over Jackson Academy senior Sam Chustz in three-and-a-half-hour marathon for the No. 1 boys singles title Thursday afternoon here at Ridgeland Tennis Center.

       Hooks’ victory and with freshman Evan Holt’s come from behind win in No. 2 boys singles led MRA to a 1/2-point victory over JA. 

       Jackson Prep’s girls ended JA’s eight-year state championship streak and defeated JA 9 ½ points to 8.

       Seventh-grader Charlotte Lucas won No. 2 girls singles, senior Josie Essary and eighth grader Anne Fair Lucas won No. 2 girls doubles and seniors Mollie Mozingo and Lytle Moore won mixed doubles to lead Prep to the team state girls title.

        Hooks won his fourth straight state singles championship. He had defeated Chustz 6-1, 6-4 last week in a regular season match at JA, the first time they had met in a high school match.

Will Hooks of MRA Photo by Chris Todd

       “It was a great feeling winning that championship match,” said Hooks, who lost only two sets this season, Thursday’s set to Chustz and another one to Jackson Prep’s Lytle Moore during the regular season. “It was a grind. The (tournament) trainer (Cody Garcia of Elite Physical Therapy) helped me a lot in between the second and third set with my cramps. He helped me with ice packs and told me where to put them for optimal help. He also gave me liquid IV and was massaging my different cramps, which helped an extreme amount. I had to really focus on one point at a time in the third set, as well as keeping a calm mindset so I could play as loose as possible. It was a great feeling winning state two years in a row. Last year was our first state championship (in boys tennis) in school history. I’m glad that I could go out on top with my team this year.”

       After Hooks won the first set and took a commanding 5-1 in the second set, Chustz turned it on and won five straight games for a 6-5 lead before Hooks forced the seven-point tiebreaker, which Chustz won 7-5.

       Then Chustz led 3-2 in the third set before Hooks won four straight games to win the match.

       “Will showed great toughess and character in the face of an opponent who had no quit in him,” third-year MRA coach Jay Stroble said. “Will had to take it and earn it and he did. He had the ability to take it to another level when he was down 3-2 and went to another gear. He had four clean games and was hitting with more pace.”

       “The second set was going downhill fast, and I got down 5-1 and I didn’t think I had played my best,” Chustz said. “Then something changed, and I slowly gained momentum and chipped away at the lead. Before I knew it, I had won the second set. When the third set came around, I was confident I could outlast Will and tire him out since I was in good shape from soccer, but that was not the case. He was the better player that set.”

       Hooks hasn’t decided where he is going to play  college yet, but he is considered one of the best high school players in Mississippi in the past 10-15 years.

Sam Chustz of Jackson Academy Photo by Chris Todd

       “Will’s natural talent, tennis IQ, and uncanny will to win separates him from any junior I’ve worked with or seen in the past 12 years,” said MRA assistant coach Justyn Schelver, who has been a teaching pro for 22 years, and is now at Hattiesburg Country Club. “His ability to recognize the situation on the court and adjust his game style accordingly is the best I’ve ever seen. The progression of Will’s game and character has been remarkable. His maturity and leadership were center point in MRA’s transformation to a state championship team. It will be a while before we see a player as special as Will Hooks.”

       Holt’s victory at No. 2 boys singles was even a bigger turnaround that Hooks’ comeback.

       JA sophomore William Wright Scott won the first set 6-3 and led 5-2, 40-0 in the second set with three match points. On the brink of losing, Holt battled, saving multiple match points. Holt won that game, then won four more games to win the second set 7-5, and won the third set 6-0, winning the last 11 games of the match.

       “It was a remarkable performance,” Stroble said. “Evan fought off about six or seven match points. Another showing of great character and toughness. Those two matches were the difference for us winning the state again.”

       In the other boys championship matches, Presbyterian Christian School junior Landon Black and sophomore Porter Vance defeated Prep freshmen Reynolds Smith and Stewart Russ 6-3, 6-1 in No. 1 doubles, and JA junior Matt Thomas and sophomore Cam Walker edged MRA senior Max Zuluaga and junior Beau Guest 5-7, 7-6 (10-8), 7-5 in No. 2 doubles.

Lucy Lee of Jackson Academy Photo by Chris Todd

       Prep’s Charlotte Lucas defeated PCS freshman Ellie Gianola 7-6, 6-4 in No. 1 girls singles, Lucas’ sister, Annie Fair, and Josie Essary defeated PCS juniors Laura Kathryn Hrom and Ainsley Biglane 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in No. 2 doubles to lead the Lady Patriots to their girls state championship team. It was Prep’s first girls state title since 2014.

       “It was a great year for Jackson Prep tennis,” said second-year Prep coach Daniel Yepez, a Venezuela native who played at Hinds Community College and Jackson State, was an assistant coach at Mississippi College and now is a teaching pro at River Hill Club in Jackson. “It was certainly special being able to win the girls state title, something we haven’t been able to do for about 10 years. I’m specifically happy for our seniors who were able to walk away from the program as a state champion.”

       In other girls championship matches, JA senior Lucy Lee defeated Prep senior Cameron Jacob 6-3, 6-2 in No. 1 singles, and JA junior Ellie Hogue and eighth-grader Carolina Walker defeated PCS senior Meredith Maksi and freshman Vivi Bishop 6-2, 2-6, 6-2. 

       Prep’s Moore, who played No. 1 singles much of the season, and Lucas (Charlotte’s sister), defeated JA sophomore Rimes Dehmer and freshman Nick Jones 7-6, (7-4), 6-3 for the mixed doubles title.