It would have been easy for Marist Catholic's Jackson Whittaker to blow off his senior tennis season and focus on his college future at George Fox University.
But Whittaker, who in 2019 reached the 4A/3A/2A/1A semifinals before losing to No. 1 seed and eventual champion Kristian Peev of Valley Catholic, still had an itch to scratch.
Whittaker took care of that Tuesday by winning the boys singles bracket in the two-day 4A Showcase at Marist Catholic. He did not lose a game in cruising through the first three rounds, then turned back Cascade sophomore Zach Moore 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
“I definitely wanted it, for sure,” Whittaker said. “After getting that draw two years ago, getting the three seed and having to play the one seed in the semis, that was a little rough. And last year I thought I was going to be able to win it, and not having a season, that was rough.
“Being able to come back and show who I am as a player, and that I was here to win, was meaningful to me, the team and my family.”
Whittaker's win was part of a dominant tournament for Marist Catholic, which outscored Cascade 35-13 for first place. It's not an official OSAA title, but it was gratifying for the Spartans, who last won a state title in 2013 (5A).
Aside from Whittaker, Marist Catholic piled up big points in the doubles bracket. The second-seeded team of seniors Sam and Luke Eagen won the title by beating their teammates – sophomore Jack Kiefer and freshman Peyton Tyner – 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2 in the final.
Kiefer and Tyner, who were seeded fourth, knocked off the top-seeded team of Philomath junior Dylan Bell and senior Nicholas Stucki 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals. Marist Catholic also got points from the unseeded team of senior Ethan Cross and senior Joey Laing, who made the quarterfinals before losing to Bell and Stucki 6-2, 5-7, 6-1.
The competition between the doubles teams kept the Spartans sharp this season. In the district tournament final, the Eagens beat Kiefer and Tyner in straight sets.
“They battled all year long to see who was going to be that first spot, second spot and third spot,” coach Brent Laing said. “At one point, they all played each other and they all beat each other. In the end, the Eagens just played great tennis and took care of business.”
There was little drama in the singles bracket as Whittaker stormed to the title. He said he has changed his mindset on the court since he played in the state tournament two years ago.
“I have a lot of weapons in my quiver,” Whittaker said. “Early in my high school career, and junior days, I was a big defender. When I decided to play college tennis, I knew that wasn't going to work. I was going to have to pick up my offensive game.
“I have a bigger serve, better returns. It's better being able to hit winners and not have to play two- or three-hour matches.”
Now he will prepare tor his college career at George Fox, where he plans to study engineering.
“When I was really little, tennis was always my sport,” said Whittaker, whose mother, Suzyn, played at Churchill and Northern Colorado. “That was always my dream to play tennis at the highest level I could. I expect to keep the dream alive and see how far I can take it.”
Brent Laing credited Whittaker for his commitment to the shortened season.
“He was great. He played with a purpose,” the coach said. “He's so helpful for our whole team. He was at every practice, every match. He was really focused on the team, but also the individual title.”
In the girls tournament, Marist Catholic, the 4A/3A/2A/1A champion in 2019, tied for first place with Philomath with 12 points. Klamath Union and Molalla tied for third place at eight points.
Klamath Union freshman Patricia Dougherty, the No. 2 seed, rolled through the singles bracket to take the title. She did not give up a game in her first three matches and dispatched top-seeded Philomath freshman Bailey Bell 6-0, 6-1 in the championship match.
Dougherty is following in the footsteps of Klamath Union's Courtlyn Lam, who won state singles titles in 2018 and 2019.
"I've been watching her grow up, and thinking, 'This one's going to be really good,'" Klamath Union coach Mary Young said. "For her age, she's so focused and confident out there, it's remarkable."
Dougherty was undefeated this season, but did not face any 6A or 5A competition. This week's tournament also did not include 3A, 2A and 1A players, who will present a challenge in future state tournaments.
"It's too bad we didn't get to have them in our state, but I know the kids were just happy to have a chance to compete," Young said. "I definitely feel she'll be able to hold her own with the stronger schools up in Portland."
Molalla's second-seeded team of seniors Hannah Nelzen and Alyssa Beatty finished first in doubles. They beat Philomath senior Chloe Jurva and senior Atira Fairbanks 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 in a hard-fought final.
Jurva and Fairbanks had defeated Junction City's top-seeded team of senior Chloe Kincade and senior Courtney Silbernagel 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals.