BATON ROUGE – Denham Springs junior Paige Duncan remembers the unmistakable feeling associated with winning her first state singles championship last year.
She enjoyed it so much, Duncan would love nothing more than to repeat the feat.
“It was a lot of fun last year,” Duncan said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to win state again. I think it would be just as fun.”
The top-seeded Duncan began the process of getting back to the campus of UL-Monroe, winning her first two matches of the Region II-Division tennis tournament Monday in impressive fashion with a pair of 6-0, 6-0 triumphs at Highland Road Tennis Center.
Duncan will be in semifinal action Tuesday at 9:30 with the championship match set for noon.
By virtue of her quarterfinal appearance, Duncan had already qualified for the state tournament April 26 along with her opponent, Brandi Chustz of Walker High School.
“I think I played a lot of better in that match,” Duncan said of her quarterfinal win over Chustz. “In my opinion, she was better than my first opponent. I think I handled it well when my first serve was in. I was winning a lot more points and winning them easier. I think I played really well.”
The realization of reaching the state tournament was one of extreme gratification for Chustz, who defeated senior Nicole Marchand of Live Oak, 6-4, 6-1.
“I’m really excited,” Chustz said. “State is a big accomplishment which I’ve always dreamed of since I started playing. This is through hard work and dedication and with the help of my coach and teammates. It’s helped me become the tennis player that I am now.”
Duncan got warmed up by breezing through her second-round match in 29 minutes, delivering 14 aces and never falling behind in any of her 12 games.
“She stays consistent,” Denham Springs coach Aja Gonzales said of Duncan. “Knowing her parents and knowing that they would not want her to play down, that keeps the consistency. You have to keep practicing the same way and practice the techniques and never let up.”
Duncan, who hasn’t lost a set this year dropping only one a year ago, trailed 40-30 in her third game with Chustz going wide on a backhand.
She responded with a backhand winner on Chustz’s second serve and taking the set on a volley at the net for a 3-0 lead.
“I feel being calm and trying my best, no matter if I win or lose, it will turn out in the end,” Chustz said. “As long as I try my hardest, it’s just about having fun and doing my best.”
Duncan found herself having to rely more on her second serve in the fourth game, overcoming a rare double fault, with an ace and put away a forehand winner approaching the net.
Duncan was able to close out the first set after consecutive double faults that left the game tied at 30-all. She answered with a forehand winner and ace for a 6-0 verdict.
“It doesn’t come easy at all,” Duncan said of consecutive streaks of sets won. “I work very hard to do be able to do that. I’m glad I’m able to keep it up.”
Duncan was able to rely more on her first serve in the second set, pulling away in a tight 40-30 second game following an unforced error from Chustz, broke Chustz in the third and held serve in the fourth game with an ace – her sixth of the match – along with a couple of sharp forehands for a 4-0 lead.
“I try to tell everybody to take it one point at a time,” Gonzales said. “I know it’s better to look forward but for her in these types of matches, it’s about taking it one step at a time. It produces the results everyone wants.”
After breaking Chustz with three straight forehand winners, Duncan served out the match, all on her second serve.
“I realized how tough these girls are, I think this year they’re even tougher,” Duncan said. “Playing last year gave me a little bit of experience. I think I’m handling everything good.”
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