16th Region tennis: A double delight: Russell, Rose Hill string together region titles; Johnson wins fourth straight crown

ASHLAND The 16th Region boys doubles final produced an instant classic.

The Rose Hill girls tennis program made history on the adjacent court.

Four region championships commenced at the Ashland Tennis Center on Thursday and strung award-winning tennis together.

Russell’s Max Newman and Parker Whitlock fought back from a late break of serve in the second set to win a third-set tiebreaker, 10-8, over Ashland’s Ryder Riggs and Chris Peacock to earn their first region trophy together.

“It took a lot of heart out of both of us,” Newman said. “Ashland is a very good team. We just put our head down and said let’s go get it.”

Whitlock, who poses an imposing presence at the net with this height, punctuated the win with an emphatic overhead smash.

“I was nervous,” Whitlock said. “I broke myself. I was in my head and couldn’t hit a forehand. I knew that I had to lock in and get it over (the net) and that’s what I did. I had to believe in myself and my groundstrokes.”

Ashland won the first three points of the tiebreaker. Peacock spun a forehand winner down the line to open the final frame. Russell responded with the next three points before Newman ripped a groundstroke that was unreturnable to knot the breaker again at 6-6.

“I’m just so proud of our boys,” Russell coach Michelle Hill said. “They just played awesome and fantastic. They never gave up and they fought to the bitter end.”

“I told them in the tiebreak that you just can’t miss,” Hill added. “You have to be able to hit and get your serves in. You just have to be flawless in this tiebreak. That’s what it will take. They were flawless. They were hitting the ball well and their forehands looked great.”

It was the second straight region doubles title for Newman. He joined Whitlock this season and the duo entered the region tournament with chemistry after logging hours on the court together.

“Coming into this season, we played a lot of tournaments beforehand,” Newman said, “and before school even started. We were dead set on playing together.”

“We did a lot during summer,” Whitlock added. “We played almost every night. We know how each other plays. We play the same. We both have good serves and volleys.”

Rose Hill’s Lakin Deerfield played her final match with redemption on her mind. The sophomore advanced to the finals last season and put an emphasis on winning one more match this season. She defeated Ashland’s Caroline Yates, 6-0, 6-1, for her first region singles title.

“Caroline is a real good player,” Deerfield said. “I put a lot of hard work into this and I work year around for it. I am so filled with joy.”

Deerfield delivers consistency with her groundstrokes until her opponent makes an error or she finds an opening to add more power to the shot.

“I lost in the finals last year and it pushed me harder this season,” Deerfield said. “I wanted it really bad. I just kept pushing all year long. … If I feel like I am getting tired, I find something to distract me. I count every time that I hit. It helps me keep my mind off of it.”

Royals coach David Bush had a courtside seat to watch his team compete for region titles. Two Rose Hill teams played for a double championship on the next court. Abi Justus and Isabel Hensley defeated teammates, Jewel Stanley and Carmen Callaway, 6-3, 6-0.

Deerfield showed the same determination in the championship match that she displayed all season.

“She put in a lot of work this offseason,” Bush said. “It shows. She’s playing at a lot higher level than she was and I am so proud of her.”

Justus and Hensley defended their region title and head to State with a pair of championships in their tennis bag.

“It was nerve-racking going into the match,” Justus said. “We both came to the agreement to just play our game. We wanted to give it 100% effort.”

The Rose Hill players had region titles on their minds but took time to reflect on the special moment after the final point was won.

“It definitely reflects on our hard work,” Hensley said, “especially on our coaches. They are amazing with David and Kim (Bush) and Leslie (Ritchie). We wouldn’t be here without them. It couldn’t have ended any better. As a senior, to play against my friends, especially Jewel, who I have been with since fourth grade, was amazing.”

“I love it,” Deerfield said about Rose Hill’s monumental day on the court. “Shoutout to David. He’s such a good coach. He’s put so much work into this program. I am so happy that all my teammates can share something like this. It’s the first time in Rose Hill history.”

David Bush said that the pair of doubles teams elevated the play of the other and guided them to Thursday’s final. Stanley and Callaway defeated the tournament’s top seed in the semifinals.

“I am super proud of the players,” David Bush said. “I am super proud of the work, the time and the energy this year. I am sad some had to lose but I am proud of all of them.”

Ashland’s Alden Johnson won his fourth straight boys singles region crown with a 6-0, 6-0 win over hard-hitting teammate, Reggie Bechtel.

Johnson lost only two games in four matches during the tournament. He said he had to be laser-focused coming into the final.

“I just have to stay positive with myself,” Johnson said. “In the semifinals, I started to get down on myself a little bit. I figured out that I have to lock myself back in and refocus.”

Johnson has plenty of force behind his groundstrokes and he imposes his will during points. It showed again on Thursday.

“Reggie has improved over the years,” Johnson said. “He’s going to Thomas More. In practice, we are always grinding with each other and push each other to get better.”

“Reggie plays a big ball,” he continued. “He has a big serve and big forehand. I knew that the only way I could come in here and win this was to get it to the backcourt and hit it back in.”

Johnson has played in the tennis spotlight for the majority of his varsity career. He was seeded at State last year and should be again in two weeks.

Johnson said winning a region title as a senior is special.

“I wanted to go out on top,” Johnson said. “Now I am looking forward to State and I’m hoping to bring back a state title.

Region semifinalists and finalists advance to the state tournament on May 28-30. The boys event will be played entirely at the University of Kentucky. The full list of entries can be found on

The first day of the girls state tournament will be played at different locations before moving on to Lexington. Girls singles will take place at Berea College on May 28. Girls doubles will start at Eastern Kentucky University.

The Ashland boys and Rose Hill girls won team titles, respectively. Rowan County’s Natalie Northcutt and Fairview’s Nathan Garred were recipients of the Julie Ditty Qualls Scholarship. Braydon Dehart also took home the Sportsmanship Award, according to Hall, the tournament director.