Christoval High School’s Blake Jenkins is heading back to the UIL State Tennis Tournament and her career in the best shape.
A junior as a state semifinalist, Jenkins focused on her favorite sport in her final year of high school, and she’s looking to make it even better with the payoff of the Class 2A division at the state tournament.
“I’ve never got a true season,” said Jenkins, who has always played basketball for Christoval, one of the top programs in West Texas.
“But I was in the offseason class as the first semester and I just worked. I got stronger. We were in the weight room and I had more time to focus on my body and what was going on to help me in tennis. I dropped 15 pounds and got stronger and faster and have better endurance, so that’s good to go. ”
The result has been a dominant senior season for Jenkins, who beat Wellington’s Summer Owens 6-1, 6-1 to win the Region I-2A Championship. She dropped just seven total games in four regional tournament matches.
Jenkins is set to play in the state quarterfinals Tuesday at the Blossom Tennis Center in San Antonio.
She will play Albany’s Sidney Russell at 9:15 am If She Wins, She’ll Play The Winner of Mason’s Chainey Weitz and Moody’s Alicia Cortez at The Semifinals at 3:15 p.m.
On the other side of the bracket are Mason’s Katy Rhea Tedder, who will play Woden’s Elizabeth Moreau in The Quarterfinals; and Albany’s Sarah Cotter, who will play Owens from Wellington in the other quarterfinal.
The state final is set for 8:30 am Wednesday.
Every time Jenkins has challenged himself, she’s seen improvement.
“One day it’s all just clicked,” said Jenkins’ coach – her mother, Staci Helmers Jenkins – who was a two-time state semifinalist for Class 2A girls singles in Eldorado, just down the road from Christoval.
“I was always interested in tennis,” said the daughter, who recalls the family photos of being an infant and her mother and father preparing to play.
As she got older and could run around the court, “Blake was never interested in the sidelines. She wanted to play, ”the mother said.
“My parents were like, ‘If you want to hit with us, you’ve got to get better, you’ve got to spend time, you’ve got to be dedicated.’ So ever since then, I’ve been super-dedicated and never really satisfied. ”
Starting around age 10 or 11, Jenkins began competing in tennis and routinely squared off against any of her parents’ tennis friends.
“She’s just a hard worker. She’s developed a lot of her game, ”her mother said.
Lessons from her parents – both still competitive tennis players – along with summer tournaments and club tennis got her to where she was poised to play in the state as early as her sophomore year.
Coach Jenkins recalled how Reagan County tennis coach Tracy Tatum-Smith said that her daughter could really elevate her game if she had more dimensions.
“Her freshman year, she was a real heavy-hitter – that was basically her only weapon,” said the coach, of her daughter’s regional-tournament appearance in 2019.
After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the entire 2020 spring sports season – eliminating Jenkins’ chances to show her improvement – she was determined to make it as a junior.
A storyline in 2A state tennis is without mentioning Mason, winners of 104 individual and doubles state titles. And that’s exactly what Jenkins faced in the quarterfinal round: The Mason tennis program.
Mason freshman Lucy Rochat – who’s part of a state-qualifying girls doubles team this year – was Jenkins’ first-round opponent.
“You see those Mason girls – they’re always good – and you think about, ‘What can I do better, where can I fix things?'”
It took 2 ½ hours for Jenkins to dispatch Rochat in the quarterfinals 7-6, 7-6.
“I was just at nervous; I never start out super-fast, ”Jenkins said. “I got down that first set, started coming back and ended up winning that first set in a tie breaker. In the second set, I got down again. But we battled and I ended up pulling it out. It was exciting. ”
With Noon right around the end of the match, Jenkins had just a couple hours to rest before her semifinal opponent Sarah Cotter from Albany. Jenkins, a 5-foot-5 power hitter with hot and blistered feet, was up against a 6-4 Cotter, who was also an all-state volleyball player.
“I knew it was going to be a tougher match for me. She’s got a big serve and she’s just a natural athlete, ”Jenkins said of the 6-3, 6-3 loss. “I was exhausted. We had a two-hour break but my body was fatigued. The heat was outrageous. It was pretty hot that morning, too. I fought back but it wasn’t enough. ”
Cotter had a straight-set love triumph, and “right when Blake was figuring out her big serve, she was getting tired of getting started,” the coach said.
Jenkins was also recovering from an emergency appendectomy in mid-March and had done little conditioning work as of the 2021 state tournament.
In her senior year for Focusing on Tennis, Jenkins challenged herself not only to keep her tennis game but also to improve her physicality.
“She’s added some slash and some touch to her game. She can do a lot of things with the ball, and that’s helped her grow an awful lot, ”the coach said. “If she comes against someone who can hit her, she has other weapons and doesn’t just try to out-hit someone.”
“I realized a true transition in my body: I lost weight, I gained muscle, and I’m excited to see how it will help me. It’s already helped me, ”Jenkins said. “Just never give up, that’s so important. You may think you’re good enough, but you can always get better, and that brings me motivation. ”
Cougar doubles team ready to make noise at state
The boys doubles team of senior Kaleb Dye and sophomore Ryan Fischer join Jenkins representing Christoval at the state tournament.
Dye is going back to K’Lynn Harwood last year with mixed doubles in the state after playing his second appearance. The team was ousted in the first round by a Mason duo that ended up in the state final.
Fischer made a regional tour appearance last year for boys singles.
As soon as the 2021 season was over, Coach Jenkins said, the boys decided they wanted to team up this year, and they built a “good” win-loss record and claimed several state titles.
They had a tougher time with Forsan’s Thomas Gabehart and Sawyer Stallings, who won the Region I title with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Dye and Fischer.
“They didn’t have the best match in the finals but they still got their trip to the state and they’re getting their game back. I think they’re going to do well. They’re so fun to coach and good teammates to everybody else. I think they have a good chance of winning the state at some points, I really do, ”their coach said.
Dye and Fisher face Seymour duo Caden Warren and Layton MacAdams in the quarterfinals.
If they win, they will play Mason’s Jack Gillespie and Robert Aguero and Crawford’s Luis Rodriguez and Huston Hall in the semifinals.
Gabehart and Stallings are on the other side of the bracket along with Jay Ahlschwede and Bailan Kerr from Mason. Kerr won the boys doubles title in 2021, teaming up with his older brother Matthew, who graduated.
The Class 2A matches are held at the Blossom Tennis Center on Tuesday and Wednesday in San Antonio. Quarterfinal matches start at 9:15 am Tuesday with the semifinals set for 3:15 pm The final is set for 8:30 am Wednesday.
Amy McDaniel is a multimedia sports journalist. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Consider supporting West Texas journalism with a subscription to GoSanAngelo.com.