LINCOLN – Jared Miller’s own legs did what his Elkhorn South opponent could not in the state championships Friday.
The York senior, playing as the second seed at No. 2 singles against top-seeded Zahler Zandt of the Elkhorn South Storm.
Zandt had defeated Miller twice earlier in the season, but the lanky Duke got one back in the week before the state tournament.
Coach Dan Malleck said York’s strategy against Zandt, an aggressive player who feeds on passing shots, was to stay deep and relentlessly pound everything the talented young sophomore hit right back at him.
Charging the net played right into Zandt’s tactics, so Miller did so rarely. The tactic worked as Zandt became more and more animated and vocal. No matter what he threw at Miller … right back it came.
Before the match began, Malleck said Miller had “gotten past his first three matches without his A game. He’s gotten by on the competitiveness he has. He still hasn’t shown his A game here. He’s extremely competitive and has hit just enough good shots to take down two quality opponents.”
Malleck said of Zandt, “The kid is good. He hits it pure, Jared’s strength is returning good shots. He’s got to frustrate this kid” by returning shots “and mixing in some offensive shots of his own.”
That’s exactly how the match played out early, beginning when Miller broke Zandt’s serve to go up 3-2 in the first set. Then, in the sixth game, Miller had to fight off deuce and ad-out more than once to hold his own serve and go up 4-3.
Miller broke serve again to go up 5-4 as Zandt began to show signs of annoyance with the pace and style of play.
Miller’s own serve was broken, however, and the set drew even at 5-all. Miller went up 6-5 when Zandt double-faulted on game point, then took a big step forward with a set-point service ace and won 7-5.
Miller broke Zandt again to win the first game of set two and was looking very good for the Dukes. Zandt broke back, however, and it was 1-up.
Zandt held his serve and went up 2-1, but Miller held to tie it at two games each.
Miller broke Zandt and went up 3-2 in a game that featured lots of ground strokes from the baseline mixed with two or three big smashes.
Then the legs cramps reared their ugly head.
Miller fell awkwardly on a play at the net in what turned out to be a foretelling of what was to come.
After being tended twice by an athletic trainer the gutsy Duke battled to a 5-3 lead … just one game from taking the set and match.
But the legs said no.
As Miller struggled with obviously diminished mobility, Zandt evened sets at one each by winning the second set 7-5 against the limping, grimacing Duke.
In the third set it was no contest as a helpless Miller tried gamely to stay in the match, but his legs gave him no chance and a remarkably fortunate Zandt swept set three and took the state title.
“It was a great state championship match,” said Malleck of the contest that was still going on long after all the other title and consolation matches had been decided.
Malleck bemoaned the severe cramps that neutralized his Duke completely in the third set.
“It would have been a great final set between the two best players in the state,” he said.
As he limped slowly away, a heartbroken Miller said, “I thought I was going to win it. I was one game away.”
Friday morning Miller earned his shot at the title by downing Grand Island Central Catholic Crusader Quinten Harshbarger in three sets, 6-4, 2-6. 6-1.
“I’m very proud of Jarrod’s efforts as well as the other guys this year,” said Malleck of his first tennis squad as head coach. “I appreciate how receptive the players and (assistant) Coach Holder were to let me be part of it this year.”
On the strength of two first-round wins and Miller’s run at the state championship the Dukes scored 14 points and tied at 11th with Omaha Roncalli.
Elkhorn South won the team trophy with 51 points to runner-up Omaha Skutt’s 36.5.