SNELLVILLE — Those close to Thomas Montroy knew exactly why he took a knee in front of his courtside bench for an extended pre-match prayer.
The Brookwood senior entered Tuesday night’s Class AAAAAAA state finals with a heavy heart, having lost his mother, Auraree, to cancer the previous evening.
“I asked a lot of help from her, from my mother,” Montroy said. “She was helping me. You could tell. I knew I wasn’t going to lose if I had help from her.”
Montroy didn’t lose. Instead, he was brilliant.
He rolled to a 6-0, 6-2 victory at No. 1 singles and the Broncos won the state championship 3-0 over visiting North Cobb in front of a large, loud crowd at the Montclair neighborhood courts. It was the program’s ninth boys tennis state title, and first since winning back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014.
The championship also sent longtime Gwinnett coach Kent Doehrman out on top. Doehrman, whose coaching career began in 1982, plans to retire after this season.
“I went with seven guys this year and told them you’re going to play them all. I’ll schedule them tough for you,” Doehrman said. “We scheduled five of the seven state champions from last year. We came out 22-1 against everybody. They earned it. We knew when we won region it was going to be a gauntlet to get to the championship. They played Lassiter and they played South Forsyth. Those two were 23-0 and 22-1. It was awesome.
“It was a tough day today. They weren’t as talkative before. As high school kids, they didn’t know how to deal with some things I think. But they were focused. Thomas was unbelievable. He’s played the toughest guys. The whole year he’s been dealing with everything. That was big for him.”
Brookwood expected to play for the championship Saturday, but it was rained out. That allowed Montroy to spend Saturday with his mother, who was in hospice after an 18-month battle with Stage 4 colon cancer.
After Advanced Placement exams Monday, Montroy was with his mother later in the evening when she passed away.
“It was peaceful,” he said. “She was able to say goodbye Saturday. I was happy she said that.”
Montroy played exceptional from the start, quickly posting a 6-0 win over North Cobb’s Kaden Barfield in the first set. He closed it out with a 6-2 win in the second set.
“I thought it was going to be difficult to play today, but as I said, getting help from her, it wasn’t so difficult,” Montroy said.
Brookwood’s players each wore a link to a pink chain on their shoes in the title match in honor of Auraree Montroy. After the match, they connected the links and put them inside the state championship cup.
That’s where they will stay.
“That goes in the trophy case,” Doerhman said. “We have 11 pink chains in there for Thomas’ mom. … The kid is just as tough as nails. We came in with the saying, ‘All players play, but tough players when championships.’ They dealt with that all year. That was a tough thing. I’m not sure I could have done what he did. A lot of people couldn’t. That’s a testament to him, his mom and his dad. Our prayers just go out to him and his family.”
Montroy even provided the highlight shot of the finals, providing the loudest cheers of the day from the home crowd. Barfield played a deep lob over Montroy’s head that bounced and came within a few feet of the concrete wall at the back of the court.
It didn’t look like Montroy would reach it. But he tracked it down and, with his back facing the court, hit a blind shot between his legs. He crashed into the wall after the shot, which made it over the net.
Barfield’s volley return immediately found the net. The reigning Daily Post player of the year leapt in celebration and turned to the fans, pumping them up even more.
“I didn’t know what to expect with that shot,” Montroy said. “I didn’t think it was going to go over and somehow it did. I somehow pulled off the point. It was just amazing seeing the ball, seeing the crowd go crazy after that and celebrating that shot.”
Montroy’s point was the second of the match for the Broncos (22-1), who went ahead 1-0 when their No. 1 doubles team of Michael Porcelli and Chase Ruff sped to a 6-0, 6-3 win over North Cobb’s Reed Walker and Peyton Stack.
The clincher came at No. 2 doubles, where Thomas Brookman and Kavin Shankar pulled out a 6-4, 7-6 victory over Lorenzo Alamon and Ryan Tuchman. Reuben Dayal, Montroy’s best friend, dropped the first set to North Cobb’s Blake Williams at No. 2 singles, but had rallied for a 5-4 lead in the second set when the Broncos won the third point.
No. 3 singles player Tawfeeq Mohamed, the hero of 3-2 wins in the semifinals and quarterfinals, wasn’t needed this time. His match had just started when the celebration began.
There was plenty to celebrate, too. The Broncos defeated Duluth 4-0 and Lambert 3-0 in the first two rounds, then made it through a brutal path that went through unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Lassiter in the quarterfinals, as well as defending state champion South Forsyth in the Final Four.
“It’s amazing. We had the tough draw,” Montroy said. “Reuben and I said if we wanted to win state, we’d take a tough draw instead of losing in the region finals and getting an easier draw. We said if it was meant to be, we would fight for it. We fought through it all the way to the end. We ran the gauntlet. … The atmosphere here at Montclair, playing here at home every single state match with the crowd, it was just amazing. Everybody cheering. It helped us all.”
When the state championship trophy was presented afterward, the Broncos sent Montroy up by himself to hoist the trophy. After that moment, his teammates and friends joined him for hugs and photos.
“It meant everything to me, doing it for my mother Auraree,” Montroy said. “This was all for her.”