ALBUQUERQUE — What a difference a month makes.
Delayed nearly four weeks from its usual mid-May start thanks to the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the State Tennis Championship will finally get started Thursday at Albuquerque Academy. It’s the first of several spring sports championship events scheduled between now and June 26.
Unlike the traditional fall and winter sports that have already wrapped up their abbreviated COVID-19-delayed seasons, the traditional spring sports are coming off a hiatus that extends back to the end of the 2018-19 season. All of them were wiped out when the pandemic began in March 2020.
Here’s everything you need know heading into Thursday’s matches:
Lather up: Afternoon temperatures in Albuquerque are expected to climb to 97 degrees. Anyone who has been to Academy’s campus knows there are not many places to find shade and watch the action, so spectators — who are admitted free of charge, as always — should plan accordingly.
That means sunscreen, water and even umbrellas.
Face coverings: Yes, they are required for both athletes and spectators.
Also, concessions will not be available. If you want water, bring your own.
First Serve, well served: Four players from Santa Fe who continued to train through the pandemic with First Serve-New Mexico have qualified for this week’s tournament. All four are freshmen, including Santa Fe High’s Yasmin Verastegui-Palamino, Humza Mahmood and Carlos Flores, as well as St. Michael’s Mariella Rigales.
Verastegui-Palamino is unseeded in the 5A girls’ singles draw, while Mahmood and Flores are unseeded in the 5A boys’ doubles draw. Mahmood has been with the Demons all season but attends school at the Academy for Technology and the Classics.
Rigales is paired with teammate Hannah Garcia in the 1A-4A doubles draw. They’re the top seed and will be on the court at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
All four have played with First Serve since elementary school. First Serve provides free year-round tennis instruction for players around Santa Fe.
Griffin alert: Santa Fe Prep junior Isabel Voinescu is the top overall seed in girls singles for Class 1A-4A. Her potential semifinal matchup in the heat of Thursday afternoon’s schedule is Robertson’s Mikaela Sena, the No. 4 overall seed. The pair crossed paths for the first time May 22 with Voinescu pulling out a 6-3, 6-1 straight-sets victory.
Not a typo: This is the second time the NMAA has used the two-classification system for state tennis. The association did away with the three-class format following the 2018 season, combining the small schools in the 1A-3A draw with those from 4A and leaving 5A in a class by itself.
Gas up the tank: What’s not a typo was the one-day gap between Thursday’s opening rounds and the championship matches in all singles and doubles brackets. In accordance with state health guidelines, overnight stays are not permitted for youth sports, which makes the day off an absolute necessity.
Although the humane thing to do on the surface, it promises to make life challenging for athletes like Lovington’s Cristian Mendoza and Deming’s Sebastien Lescombes, just to name a few.
Mendoza is the No. 4 singles player in the boys’ 1A-4A draw and, like Lescombes as an unseeded player in 5A, has his quarterfinal match at 11 a.m. The semifinals for all singles matches are slated for 2 p.m., meaning the five-hour one-way drive from Lovington (and 31/2 hours from Deming for Lescombes) will put a serious test on players from the far-flung corners of the state.
Pencil, not pen: For several weeks the NMAA’s website listed the dates for this year’s state tournament as June 7-12 at Albuquerque Academy. Obviously that’s not the case. Same, too, for next week’s team championships, which is listed as June 14-19 at Academy and the Jerry Cline Complex a few miles away.
Next week’s team competition will follow a similar split-day format — with a few notable exceptions. All quarterfinal matches for the top eight teams in each draw will be at the site of the higher seed on a date to be determined. All semifinal and championship duals will be held in Albuquerque on June 19, split between Academy for the 1A-4A draw and Jerry Cline for the 5A tournament.