Briones, Benson rule at Citizens Bank Tourney

Farmington juniors oust Piedra Vista players in tournament finals

Jake Newby

FARMINGTON — For the 20th straight year, players age 18 and younger hit the courts at the Farmington Tennis Complex this weekend to take part in the Citizens Bank Junior Tennis Tournament.

Farmington's Monica Briones returns a shot in the 20th annual Citizens Bank Junior Tennis Tournament against Piedra Vista's Alyssa Baker on Saturday at the Farmington Tennis Complex.

Farmington High School juniors Monica Briones and Nate Benson came out on top in the singles tournament brackets of their respective age groups. Briones won the 14-16 age bracket while Benson earned first in the 16-18 division.

Pat McGrath, head coach of the Farmington girls tennis team, organized and oversaw the event for the first time. McGrath took over for recently retired Citizens Bank employee Kim Lien, who ran the tourney the previous 19 years. Citizens Bank financed the event by purchasing T-shirts, tennis balls and championship trophies.

McGrath said the junior tournament, which includes nine singles and doubles brackets among boys and girls, is a great tool for tennis players looking to improve during the off season.

"We try to get across to the kids that the summertime is when you improve," McGrath said. "There's just not enough time in the season really to go to that next level. And so the more competitive matches you can play in the summer, the better you're going to be come spring."

Briones made it to the final of the girls 14-16 singles bracket by defeating high school teammate Grace Craig, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinal. Awaiting Briones in the final was Piedra Vista junior Alyssa Baker, marking the third straight year the two faced off for the tournament title. Briones won it in 2014, and Baker got her back in 2015.

Today, Briones took the title back by winning 7-5, 6-7, 11-9 in a match that lasted a little more than two and a half hours. The crosstown rivals have played each other "five or six times" during their young careers, according to Briones, who said it's always a tight battle when they share a court.

"It's evenly matched every single time," Briones said. "It's this close every year."

Temperatures in Farmington hovered around 93 degrees today, which made the marathon match that much tougher for the girls.

"It pretty much sucked, actually," Baker said of the heat. "It was pretty rough, but it's like, we kind of got through it together. Even though we were playing each other, it was kind of like we were together."

The championship final between Nate Benson and Piedra Vista's Pol Nicolai in the boys singles went to a tiebreaker, as well. There, Benson got the edge and won the match 3-6, 6-4, 10-6. The FHS junior said he had to stop playing Nicolai's game after dropping the opening set.

Farmington's Nate Benson eyes the ball during his match against Piedra Vista's Pol Nicolai on Saturday in the 20th annual Citizens Bank Junior Tennis Tournament  at the Farmington Tennis Complex.

"He can knock the ball around pretty hard. I was trying to hit the ball as hard as he was, and I couldn't keep up with him," Benson said. "So I just started playing smarter; I slowed up my serve and just tried to keep him on his toes as much as possible."

Farmington's No. 1 singles player Ned Merrion was bounced in the semifinal by Nicolai, so Benson, the Scorpions' No. 2, has bragging rights over his teammate this summer.

"I did better than Ned in this tournament, so that definitely gives me some confidence," Benson said. "I'll be giving him some crap for that."

The 30th annual Citizens Bank Tennis Tournament for adults takes place at the complex next weekend.

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.