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May 8, 2013

Barnes embraces his first girls state title

DUNCAN — When all the pieces fell into place, when it finally became clear that everything Duncan tennis coach Phil Barnes had chased for the last 16 years would come to fruition, he stepped away from the action of Saturday’s Class 5A State Tournament to take it all in.

As Barnes watched the tournament’s final moments unfold, memories of the events leading to this point, all the tears and heartache from years past, rushed into his head. The Lady Demons had come so close to winning a state title five of the last six years, but each time had fallen just short with a runner up finish.

This time around, those tears were replaced with celebration. The wait was over. Barnes had won his first girls state title coaching the Lady Demons since taking over in 1998.

With two state titles in doubles play and two runner up finishes in singles, the Lady Demons gave Barnes what he had sought for so long, a chance to have coached the best team in Oklahoma.

“It’s just a great feeling. There’s been so much heartache, we’ve been second so many times. I wouldn’t call it relief, I was just tired of being second,” Barnes said. “There’s only one team in the state can say ‘we did everything we could, we were the best we can be’ and this year that’s us I couldn’t be more proud of the girls.”

In many ways, Barnes’ first girls state title was historic. Duncan became the first Class 5A public school to win a state title since 1998 and the Lady Demons made it to the finals in all four events at state for the first time in school’s history.

During the days following the championship, Barnes said the accomplishment has sunk in, but he’s been mostly too busy preparing  the boys team for their state tournament, which begins Friday, to think on it extensively.

Making the moment that much sweeter for Barnes was all those near misses throughout the last decade. After the Lady Demons most recent runner-up finish last year, Barnes experienced what he called one of the most difficult times in his career as a coach, believing that team was the best in Oklahoma.

“Last year was hard to take. I don’t want to say it was disappointing but I thought we should have won,” Barnes said. “I still believe we had the best team in the state, but I felt like I got outcoached by Heritage Hall’s coach and was outmaneuvered in deciding some of the tournament’s seedings.”

Looking back on the team’s championship campaign, Barnes said he brought high expectations for Duncan right away, believing they were one of the top three teams in the state at the beginning of the season.

“I thought at the start of the year, we had a chance to win state,” Barnes said. “Obviously it’s hard to say much that early on because you never know what can happen, but expectations were high. But expectations have been that high for at least the past five six years.

Like any team, the Lady Demons had their ups and downs in the journey to state. Barnes pointed to the Ada Tournament as a moment where he knew the team had to get better if they were going to reach the ultimate goal. Those growing pains were derived from a strategy employed by Barnes: creating an extremely difficult regular season, which included regular run ins with Class 6A competition, to prepare the team for state. What resulted was a mental toughness that could not be matched.

“We were not going to be denied. There was just a look that I had not really seen before that said ‘We are going to do everything we can to win a state tournament,” Barnes said.

When state arrived, it was the collective effort of the Lady Demons that clinched the title. With the teams of Samantha Cassidy and Syndey Henricks and Carly Kirkland and Marissa Moore winning No.1 and No.2 doubles state titles, Barnes was fast to point out how Brittany Toone and Alex Bowers, who took second in No.1 and No.2 singles respectively, should not be overlooked.

“Obviously we don’t make it that far without the great success of doubles, but if we didn’t have the singles girls we have there, we probably finish fifth or sixth,” Barnes said. “That cannot be ignored.”

To Barnes, no team comes near a state title without the years of success it takes to build a program. He said reaching this point would have been impossible had it not been for the countless Lady Demons who helped developed the Duncan tennis into what it is today – an annual contender for the state title.

Before this year, Duncan had won four girls state titles, in 1975, 1976, 1992 and 1994. A banner with the 2013 team’s players will be placed right by those added for previous accomplishments on the gates of the south tennis courts at the Duncan High School Tennis Complex.

Though seniors Toone and Cassidy will graduate in two weeks, the future remains bright for Duncan, with four returning players and strong junior varsity and junior high programs.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Barnes said. “We’ll be in the hunt once again next year. We’ve got four kids coming back and plenty of young and talented kids ready to make an impact.”


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