Simplicity was what Ella Coleman wanted going into Tuesday's Class 6A girls state tennis final, and simplicity is what she got to help her win it.
The Bentonville senior rallied from a deep hole in the first set and survived several charges in the second to pull out a hard-fought 7-6, 6-4 victory over Rogers Heritage's Stella de Vera on a pleasant, yet occasional windy afternoon at the Rebsamen Tennis Center in Little Rock.
The straight-set win not only capped a riveting tournament run for Coleman, but it also allowed the Navy commit to reclaim her throne atop the state's largest classification.
"Oh man, this is really big," said Coleman, who finished as runner-up as a freshman and won the state title as a sophomore before sitting out last season. "I wanted to come back and finish strong my senior year. It just feels good to know that I was able to come out and do that."
That strong outing in the championship match also played a role in Bentonville claiming its first state title since 2020 and fifth over the past nine seasons. Little Rock Central, on the strength of its doubles' championship duo of Caroline Lasley and Khushi Patil, finished second while Rogers Heritage was third.
Lasley and Patil lost in the finals last season, but the tandem redeemed that finish by outlasting Bentonville's Glennah Langford Kavya Kurichety 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 to win the title. The two teams were tied 3-3 in the third-set tiebreaker until Lasley and Patil closed by winning four of the last five points.
On the boys side, Jonesboro's Ethan Richardson withstood a stiff challenge from Bentonville West's Graham Hardin to garner the singles championship 7-5, 6-2, while Fayetteville's Jacob Nordin and Spencer Holloway rebounded to take down Bentonville's Boyce Reed and Santiago Aquirre 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 and take the doubles' crown.
Incidentally, the victories from Richardson and the twosome of Nordin and Holloway helped enable Jonesboro and Fayetteville to share the boys team championship. The title was the fifth straight for the Golden Hurricane, who won the previous four in Class 5A, and second in a row for Fayetteville in 6A.
Coleman's championship this year may have been her toughest.
After fending off last year's champ, Cassie Cervantes of Bentonville West, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals, Coleman found herself staring across the net against a familiar foe in de Vera that had just as much motivation as she had.
A junior, de Vera, was beaten in the 2021 final by Cervantes in a three-set thriller but exacted revenge two weeks ago by defeating the Lady Wolverines' ace in the 6A-West Conference championship. For Coleman, her method of attack against the hard-hitting right-hander wasn't complicated.
It was simply attack and counterattack.
"She has a really great forehand," she said of de Vera. "So I knew I was gonna have to try and get it to her backhand. She likes to run around her backhand and hit those forehands, and I knew I had to do that.
"And then for me, I had to use by backhand to get into rallies and attack with it."
There was plenty of give and take in the opening set, with each earning a break on the others' first service game. De Vera broke again later in the set on an unforced error, then grabbed a 5-3 lead when a Coleman forehand sailed long.
But the Lady Tigers' standout saved back-to-back set points and eventually forced a tiebreaker, where she used her backhand consistently to win seven of eight points.
In the second set, Coleman ran out to a 3-1 advantage only to see de Vera storm back and again tie it at 3-3. The two would exchange breaks, but a shot in the net from de Vera gave Coleman a pivotal game and as well as a chance to serve for match.
Easier said than done.
"The nerves definitely kicked in after that," Coleman explained. "The closer it got, I started to feel it. But I just wanted to keep calm and play my game."
She did just that and went on to pull out the victory after a backhand from de Vera went wide.
"I felt a lot of pressure coming back in my senior year," Coleman said. "But to go out and win it. ... it's such a great feeling."
Rebsamen Tennis Center, Little Rock
Ethan Richardson, Jonesboro def. Harrison Deer, Rogers 6-1, 6-2
Graham Hardin, Bentonville West def. Kevin Praphan, Fort Smith Northside 6-4, 6-0
Ethan Richardson, Jonesboro def. Graham Hardin, Bentonville West 7-5, 6-2
Harrison Deer, Rogers def. Kevin Praphan, Fort Smith Northside 6-3, 6-1
Boyce Reed/Santiago Aquirre, Bentonville def. Carson Fowler/Win Gibson, Jonesboro 6-1, 6-4
Jacob Nordin/Spencer Holloway, Fayetteville def. Robinson Wright/Graysen Conley, Fort Smith Southside 6-7, 6-1, 7-6
Jacob Nordin/Spencer Holloway, Fayetteville def. Boyce Reed/Santiago Aquirre, Bentonville 6-4, 6-7, 6-3
Robinson Wright/Graysen Conley, Fort Smith Southside def. Carson Fowler/Win Gibson, Jonesboro 6-4, 6-4
Ella Coleman, Bentonville def. Cassie Cervantes, Bentonville West 6-3, 7-5
Stella DeVera, Rogers Heritage def. Cate Cole, Fort Smith Southside 6-1, 6-3
Ella Coleman, Bentonville def. Stella DeVera 7-6, 6-4
Cassie Cervantes, Bentonville West def. Cate Cole, Fort Smith Southside 6-3, 6-2
Caroline Lasley/Khushi Patil, Little Rock Central def. Ashlyn Pursel/Annelise Deer, Rogers 6-1, 6-3
Glennah Langford/Kavya Kurichety, Bentonville def. Lauren Guadamuz/Ella McPike, Jonesboro 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
Caroline Lasley/Khushi Patil, Little Rock Central def. Glennah Langford/Kavya Kurichety, Bentonville 5-7, 7-5, 7-6
Ashlyn Pursel/Annelise Deer, Rogers def. Lauren Guadamuz/Ella McPike, Jonesboro 6-2, 6-3