When the Class 6A state tennis tournament begins play on May 12, Carroll will be represented by a team that went into the regional as an unseeded tandem.
Clara Merklin and Matt Landers won the Region I mixed doubles tournament recently and will compete at the state meet after surprising the field.
The mixed doubles team had played just one tournament together during the season, mostly due to the fact that Landers was busy as the Dragons’ starting point guard on the basketball team.
The chemistry developed when the two played together in the fall season came back quickly.
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Merklin and Landers picked up wins over the first- and fourth-seeded teams in the early going.
The Dragons duo knocked off Lubbock Coronado, Plano West and El Paso Coronado to take the title. Plano West battled back and grabbed second place and will be the other team to represent the region in mixed doubles at the state meet.
In the semifinals against Plano West, Landers said after losing the second set, they seemed to be faltering.
“But our assistant coach, Brenna Athens, gave us some advice that turned the third set around, and Plano West was taken off-guard. Without that advice, I don’t think we would have won.”
“It was sweet,” said Merklin of winning the regional meet. “We were underdogs going in and it was great to prove to everyone wrong.”
Merklin said she thought they could achieve a state berth, but winning the tournament was extra icing on the cake.
“The goal was to go to state,” she said, “but I didn’t think we could win it.”
Landers, a junior, is used to playing with a senior female partner.
Last year, Landers was paired with his senior sister, Elise. The Landers and Landers duo made the regional meet last year but was unable to qualify for state.
“We have nice chemistry,” Landers said of playing with Merklin this year. “We’re a formidable tandem. I’m fast and agile, and she can hit the ball hard. We don’t have a lot of miscommunication.”
Landers was also a little surprised they played to the level of regional champions, but he said there was plenty of confidence.
“The only tournament we played together in the spring was at Allen and I was playing with my mom’s racquet, and the strings broke,” Landers said. “We played the number four and two seeds and it was right after basketball. I knew we were a different team.”
This is Merklin’s first year playing mixed doubles, but the move from girls doubles and singles in her previous years at Carroll seems to be paying dividends.
“I feel like that’s where I’m strongest,” she said of the pairing with Landers.
Merklin and Landers continue to work out regardless of the weather in preparation for the state meet on May 12-13 in College Station. Although the weather hasn’t been cooperating, they still manage to work indoors to keep sharp.
“We’re looking forward to state, without a doubt,” Landers said. “I went last year (to state) to watch my teammates play. Everyone there is amazing.”