Even ‘ringers’ can’t stop Wright-Koontz’ run

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Even ‘ringers’ can’t stop Wright-Koontz’ run

In an effort to slow down the powerful duo of Mason Davis Wright and Hunter Koontz, the Mercedes-Benz Greater Richmond Mixed Doubles tournament brought in a pair of “ringers” for the April 19-20 event at acac-Midlothian.

John Karlawish of Raleigh, N.C., who played as high as No. 2 singles for the University of Richmond this season before leaving the team, was Laura LaFors’ partner, while Brandon Wozniczka was a highly regarded junior out of Chicago who is now an assistant pro at acac.

It didn’t make any difference.

For the second year in a row, Wright and Koontz swept through the draw, completing their dominance with an 8-3 victory over LaFors and Karlawish in a match that took almost 45 minutes and featured some electric exchanges.

In the semifinals, Wright and Koontz had disposed of Wozniczka and Karolina Fleming 8-4.

“I think these were all new teams this year, which is pretty cool,” saidWright, head of junior tennis at the Country Club of Virginia. “It’s good to get new people out here. But Hunter is not allowed to play with anybody else but me.”

It doesn’t seem to matter who the opposition is,Wright and Koontz are always equal to the task. They can track down most returns and are lethal at the net. Like all good doubles teams, they cover nicely for each other when one is caught out of position.

“Hunter is a rare specimen on the tennis court,” saidWright. “Have you seen how long his arms are?”

Koontz, a teaching pro at CCV when he’s not off overseas serving as a hitting partner for some of the up-and-coming American female pros, can cover the court with his speed and reach, and would occasionally take over the point himself for a winner.

“I can cover up the middle,” said Koontz, three-time city singles champion. “Those are my instructions. I just try to do what I’m told.”

“Hunter brings a good focus for everybody when they’re out here, because he plays at such a high level,” saidWright. “You have to make every single ball when you’re playing against him. You get down love-30, you’re in trouble. He’ll just take over.”

Koontz and Wright found themselves down love-30 and 15-40 on several occasions but usually managed to recover.

In the opening game, for example, Koontz fell behind 15-40 on his serve before winning the next four points.

“He has a few different gears,” said LaFors. “Being up 40-15 is not as exciting as it is against other people. Especially when he’s serving.”

“Hunter always pulls through,”Wright said.

“I feel like my first thought goes to [Roger] Federer, who [when he] goes break point down, he always hits an ace or an unreturnable serve,” said Koontz, the former Virginia Tech and Deep Run High School star. “I try to channel that a little bit.

“When you have Mason up at the net, she just cleans up so it’s good. It’s a good combo.”

LaFors and Karlawish made the winners work hard for the title, however, erasing five match points in the final game on Davis’ serve before a forehand winner by Wright into the corner brought an end to the contest.

“That guy [Karlawish]got to so many balls, it was unreal,” said Wright. Added Koontz, “I got tired of watching him run, he was so fast.”

But not fast enough to prevent the Wright-Koontz duo from prevailing and splitting the winner’s check of $500.

In the semifinals, LaFors and Karlawish pulled out an 8-7 (10-8) decision over Bridget Reichert and Jason Kinder.

Koontz is planning to go after his fourth straight city men’s singles crown in August at acac, while Wright is counting on him remaining her doubles partner in the mixed next year. As long as he doesn’t accept a permanent job with the U.S. Tennis Association.

“If Madison [Saunders, Koontz’ girlfriend] has anything to say about it, he won’t be going anywhere,” said Wright. “She’s a big piece to the puzzle.”

Koontz said he would be interested in serving as a hitting partner again if the USTA called.

“I would love to,” he said. “It really depends if they ask me. I told her [CiCi Bellis, who Koontz worked with most recently] when I left that I needed to put some time in at CCV so I could keep my job. They’ve been super nice at CCV to let me go and have an opportunity like this.”

In other developments during the tournament, which is under the auspices of the Richmond Tennis Association, a check for $5,000 was presented to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is a charitable organization dedicated to funding type 1 diabetes research.

All proceeds from the entry fees to the tournament were donated to JDRF.

The winner of the drawing for two tickets to one day at the U.S. Open later this year was Stacey Cabral.

7.0 Division- Josh Cohen and Kathie Naylor

8.0 Division- Suzanne Spiller and Al Thomas

9.0 Division- Lauren Palmer and Brandon Wozniczka

Open Division- Mason Davis Wright and Hunter Koontz