Sophomore duo at FHS leads quest for state title

Karl Schneider
  • As Farmington's No. 1 doubles team, Nguyen and Ballard have yet to be beaten this season.
  • Nguyen and Ballard are expected to be seeded in the top three of the 5A individual state tourney.
  • Farmington has won six state titles in the last nine years, finishing runners-up the other three.

FARMINGTON — The Farmington girls tennis team has been the premiere program in its classification the past decade.

Farmington's Elise Ballard, left, and Emily Nguyen pose for a portrait on Wednesday at the Lions Park tennis courts in Farmington.

The Lady Scorps have won six team titles in the last nine seasons, finishing second the other three seasons. But oddly enough, the team hasn't brought home any individual state titles during that stretch.

This year might be different.

The Lady Scorps are again one of the top teams in the state and will have a chance to bring home another team title, and they have a chance to win an individual title with sophomores Emily Nguyen and Elise Ballard vying for the top spot at the 5A state tournament next week in Albuquerque.

Farmington has only won one individual girls tennis title with Kris McLain winning the title in 1986.

Farmington coach Pat McGrath said he expects Nguyen and Ballard, who have been Farmington's No. 1 and No. 2 singles players all season, to be seeded in the top three for the individual state tourney, pending an upset at this weekend's District 1/5-5A individual tourney. The other player expected to be one of the top three seeds is Los Alamos' Sidra Hsieh-Ratliff.

"It's a good chance," McGrath said of Nguyen or Ballard winning an individual title, "but Sidra is very good. To beat her, they're going to have to play their best. It's going to be a very tough match, but they do have that opportunity."

Farmington's sophomore duo already has a history with Hsieh-Ratliff.

Last season at the state tourney, Hsieh-Ratliff eliminated Ballard from the tourney, beating her 7-6(4) and 6-0 in the quarterfinals.

"I learned to not be super nervous," Ballard said of last year's experience. "I think that's why I played so bad last year. So this year, I need to go in with more confidence."

Later in the tourney, Nguyen beat Hsieh-Ratliff 6-1, 3-6 and 6-4 in the third-place match, then Hsieh-Ratliff beat Nguyen when the teams met in the team portion of the state tourney.

This year, Nguyen and Hsieh-Ratliff met once. Nguyen won the first set, and in the second it was tied 2-2, but then it started snowing, and the match never resumed.

Along with chasing an individual title, Nguyen and Ballard are expected to compete for a doubles title next week, serving as the Lady Scorps No. 1 doubles team that hasn't been beaten this season.

Nguyen and Ballard said this year there is more pressure on them to perform well in doubles to help the team, and the pressure seems to make them better.

"We just play really well together, especially when there's pressure on us," Nguyen said. "And Pat gets us going. He always tells us what we need to be doing, and we find a way to do it."

With Nguyen and Ballard leading the way, the Lady Scorps have a chance to sweep the state tourney with a team title, individual title and doubles title. But to do so, they'll likely have to go through not only Hsieh-Ratliff but the loaded Lady Hilltoppers team.

Los Alamos has been the top team in 5A all season and has always been one step ahead of the Lady Scorps.

The two teams met on March 25 at the Taos team tournament with LA prevailing 5-4. They've also crossed paths at various tournaments throughout the season, and each time the senior-laden Lady Hilltoppers finished ahead of Farmington.

McGrath said one advantage LA has on the Lady Scorps is experience. LA puts out a team of mostly seniors while Farmington's top six players consists of Nguyen and Ballard, eighth-graders Eliza Merrion and Anna Briones, junior Monica Briones and senior Anita Briody-Pavlik.

"We've been right behind (Los Alamos). They're almost an entire team of seniors and that makes a difference," McGrath said. "If we make it to the finals, there's no pressure on us. They're the ones who are expected to win."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.