PALMER — The Colony Knights were crowned the Region 3 Tennis Champions after a week of championship tennis matches at Colony High School that have been on and off due to weather. Colony’s Ayan Cebrian lost only one point on his way to his second straight Region 3 Boys Singles title on Thursday night. However, Cebrian’s title was his first in Colony green.
“He was our opponent last year, he played for Wasilla last year and he appealed [Alaska School Activities Association] to come play for us so it was a little bit awkward at the beginning because they were like wait a second you’re wearing the wrong color but he has fit in. The kids embraced him,” said Knight head coach Susan Brunner. “He has been a great teammate.”
Cebrian was just one of five Knight tennis players to celebrate region championships this week. Andrew Svoboda and Chloe Wright defeated Anna Abalos and Riley Ames (6-0, 6-0) and Grant Freeman and Kayden Payne won the boys doubles title for Colony with a win over Sam VanderWheele and Jesse Hushower of Palmer. Wasilla’s girls doubles team of Abby Roper and Hallie Anderson defeated Palmer for the Region 3 title and will join the Colony winners as Valley representatives at state in two weeks. Wasilla head coach Jen Anderson was named Coach of the Year.
“I think this is an outstanding team. I’m really proud of them. Many of these players right there on my region team have been with me four years so it’s really great,” said Brunner. “it’s great that I’m sending such a big group to state this year.”
Cebrian defeated Austin Johnston who won the night’s most exciting match over Palmer’s Grant Keyes to reach the finals. The back and forth match between Johnston and Keyes featured long rallies between the two players running across the court and both players suffered minor injuries during the match. Johnston won 7-6 in the first game and Keyes took the second game 5-6. In the final tiebreaker match, Johnston won 1-0 and earned his trip to the championship match against Cebrian.
“You can’t find a lot of people out here that play good tennis but there are some kids out here that play good tennis and I enjoy playing with them,” said Cebrian.
After not dropping a point to Hudson Mobley of Wasilla in the opening round, Cebrian had no trouble defeating his teammate Johnston for the title, but did drop one single point. Cebrian has played tennis recreationally with his family and friends for nearly a decade and started playing competitively before he entered high school. After winning last year’s boy’s singles title as a member of the Warriors, Cebrian could not make it past the first round at the state tournament.
“The teams in Anchorage have this edge on us, one they can play year round and they play indoors. It’s just like the teams for any of our sports, our region just doesn’t have the same resources as the other sports, they have that edge. He will have a tough time but he has a possibility of going far at state,” said Brunner.
For the last year, Cebrian has been dreaming of nothing but a state title. Further into the future, Cebrian’s dreams are much bigger.
“This year at state I’m hoping and practicing and I really want to win state this year, not just bc of covid but because of the tennis play. I want to win state for a Colony tennis player so I’ve been working a lot with my high school coaches and my personal coaches and I’ve been also building muscle for my serve because you know everyone says it’s big and it is, so I’ve been working on muscle for the past year so it really improved,” said Cebrian. “My goal in life for tennis is to play in the ATP tours and that’s my biggest goal in tennis and hopefully next year I’ll be able to play. I will be traveling out in the Lower 48 and compete for the USTA.”
Cebrian stands over six feet tall and is lean and wiry, but in no way lacking strength. Cebrian trains every day with a personal tennis coach and has developed a rocket serve that is nearly impossible to return. Taking his time with each repetition that looks almost identical to the last, Cebrian stands just inches from the service line and bounces the ball in his left hand, flexing and raising his right arm behind him to prepare to unleash his serve. With flawless mechanics, Cebrian tosses the ball high above his head, squats down and reaches the racket back as far as he can before leaping into the air and rotating his racket through with a violent overhand motion.
“Ever since I was about eight I’ve been playing just for fun with my family and then ever since I was maybe 13 or 14 I started playing competitive and I loved it. I love playing tennis. It’s my passion and I want to play it throughout my life,” said Cebrian.
Despite showing incredible talent on the tennis court just hours early in his win over Keyes, Johnston struggled to return Cebrian’s massive serve. Standing at the back corner of the court, Johnston had to react as quickly as he could to try and get his racket in front of the ball. Even when Johnston was able to return the serve in play, Cebrian’s talent for the game of tennis extends much beyond his serve. With speed and agility to chase the ball paired with an incredible strength and accuracy in his motion, Cebrian jumped at the opportunity to continue the volley, quite literally. Positioning his feet behind the ball, Cebrian delivered the full force of his swing on nearly every shot, twisting and writhing his limbs in rotation around the ball and leaving his feet with each swing of his racket.
“Definitely my biggest shot is my serve but my most consistent one is my forehand and my favorite is my backhand,” said Cebrian.
Audrey Abalos and Hallie Anderson of Wasilla were named to the Girls Region 3 Team as well as Katherine Payne of Colony and Zoe Patton-Meyer and Bella Baca from Palmer. Sam VanderWheele represented the Moose on the Boys Region Team along with Hudson Mobley and Owen Hoyt of Wasilla and Grant Freeman and Austin Johnston of Colony.
Colony’s Grant Freeman and Katherine Payne earned the Good Sport Award for the Knights. Lily Anderson and Jesse Hushower earned the Good Sport Award for the Moose and Audrey Abalos and Hudson Mobley earned the Good Sport Award for Wasilla.