Yoshida, Kelley genuinely heroic in defeat

We know this much about Riota Yoshida.

When the chips are down, the Maryville High School sophomore won’t bail out on a friend.

Yoshida and Rebel senior Lucas Kelley fell, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, to Alex Howard and Beau Blacksheer of Brentwood in the championship match of the Class AAA state doubles tournament last Friday at Middle Tennessee State University. It marked the second consecutive year Kelley and Yoshida had finished state runners-up.

Last Friday was never about the tennis, though.

The 2008 final had been a painful one for Kelley, Yoshida, Maryville coach Elizabeth Huffaker and Michael and Melinda Kelley, Lucas’ parents. The Rebel doubles team had been disqualified in the championship match when Kelley received a code violation for throwing his racquet. The disqualification had come after Kelley had received repeated warnings.

It was devastating, Michael Kelley said. Afterward, he said, he was simply spent.

“Lucas sat out there (alone) for about five minutes,” he said. “I just went out there and put my arm around him.”

When district tournament play arrived this spring, the point at which high school tennis teams are locked into their singles and doubles slots for the postseason, Huffaker said she let Yoshida and Kelley decide if they wanted to pair for another run. For Yoshida, there was never a decision to make.

“I just trust him,” he said. “He’s a good guy.”

Last Friday’s final could hardly have begun better for the talented Rebel duo. Maryville roared through the opening set at love, with Kelley delivering an ace on set point. Set 2 swung just as dramatically the other way, with the third and final set growing ever more contentious with each point.

At times, Kelley flashed the frustration that had brought on the disqualification the year before. Each time, he stopped just short.

“I was proud of his composure,” Huffaker said.

The difference this time?

Yoshida.

“I told him I wouldn’t do that anymore,” Kelley said. “Last year was hell, and I wasn’t going to put him through it again.”

A state doubles crown was the goal, Huffaker said, but the bigger victory for Yoshida and Kelley came in simply reaching the final again and finishing the match.

“As a coach, my biggest concern was getting (Kelley) back in the game because that’s where he needed to be,” she said. “For the most part, these guys came into this match already having what they needed.”

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