Xavier Prep’s tennis doubles team of freshmen Dani Dyer and Belani Soto fell just short of winning a state title on Monday (May 3), but their runner-up finish was something that few others could have accomplished, a tribute to the ability they developed this season along with their perseverance.
Dyer and Soto were the No. 3 seed and met top-seeded Olivia Kim and Julia Frazier of Scottsdale Desert Mountain, and Kim and Frazier prevailed 6-1, 6-3, at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.
It has been a wild and crazy season for Xavier in the team competition, with injuries causing Coach Laurie Martin to mix up the singles order and use different pairings in doubles.
One of those pairings was Dyer and Soto. Martin and her coaching staff expected Dyer to be paired with junior Ryan Kershner, with Kershner also serving as the top singles player.
But Kershner was dealing with a nagging back issue that limited her participation for most of the season.
So Martin put Dyer and Soto together and look what happened!!
“I think we connected pretty well, even from the first time,’’ Soto said. “Each of us knew what the other could get to (opponents’ shots) or not get to. We only figure to get better from here.’’
Said Dyer: “I think we might have been a little surprised at first, but it worked out for us. And we have three more years to go.’’
Martin said “that for something that happened out of necessity, things went pretty well.
“We are proud of these girls and what they did on the big stage. They played with a lot of energy and excitement. What a great opportunity for them.’’
Dyer and Soto had their moments, trying to keep Kim and Frazier off balance with sideline and back-line shots. Some of them worked, others did not and the Desert Mountain duo utilized their length and reach to make it difficult for the two Gators to gain a lot of consistency.
It has been an amazing journey for Soto, who before coming to Xavier suffered a serious leg injury that took about 10 months to heal. The injury was a broken femur and broken growth plate that occurred in a sledding accident near the White Mountains community of Greer.
Soto had some initial concerns about whether she might be able to play again, but when she began the rehabilitation process started to feel more optimistic, combined with the fact that she still wanted to play for Xavier’s tradition-rich program with its recipe for success.
Part of the rehab process had her taking swings with her racquet while seated in a chair.
The team quarterfinals will be played on Tuesday (May 4), with third-seeded Xavier hosting No. 6 Mesa Mountain View at 3 p.m. Xavier defeated Mountain View 8-1 on March 31 at Mountain View.
The winner will advance to the semifinals on Friday (May 7) at Gene Autry Park in Mesa. Action begins at noon.