DUNLAP – Few athletes at any level of competition ever achieve true perfection.
Few athletes boast the heart, mental toughness, consistency, tenacity and strength of character of Sarah Hartle.
The Warsaw senior put all of her attributes to good use Friday night to cap an amazing conference career on the tennis court.
Hartle completed a perfect prep run through the Northern Lakes Conference with her fourth straight NLC Tournament title.
The No. 1 singles player for the Tigers wrapped up a 40-0 NLC record in impressive fashion by defeating Sarah Smith of Northridge 6-4, 6-2 in tourney finals play at Concord High School.
When Smith’s final shot sailed long, Hartle gave a signature pump of her fist to celebrate the monumental achievement.
“I can’t believe it happened,” said Hartle of her 40-0 mark in league matches. “It’s unbelievable. I was so happy on that final point. I just looked over at my Mom (Nancy) and I could see she had tears in her eyes.
“It’s a big deal for me. My goal this whole week was to finish 40-0. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of nerves.”
Neither seemed to faze Hartle, who won NLC titles at No. 3 singles as a freshman and at No. 2 singles each of the past two years. Despite playing in intense pain due to a stress fracture in her Achilles heel suffered in the first match of the season, Hartle was just too tough. She won four straight games in each set to turn back Smith.
“I just always stayed mentally strong and had the heart to keep going,” said Hartle of playing through pain. “My mentality is you can’t give up and as a senior leader on this team you have to have heart no matter what.”
Hartle went 7-0 in NLC regular-season matches each of her four years and then 3-0 in the league tourney to put together her perfect mark.
Warsaw, which shared the NLC regular-season title with Northridge and Concord at 6-1, finished second in the tourney. Northridge, with champions at four of the five positions, won with 57 points. The Tigers were second with 32 points.
The Tigers, who have just one senior in Hartle, also got impressive efforts from sophomore Jacqueline Sasso at No. 3 singles and juniors Olivia Wallin and Lindsay Sciarra at No. 1 doubles. Sasso was runner-up to Courtney Clark of Northridge, while Wallin and Sciarra placed third after beating the top-seeded Concord doubles team of Katie Showalter and Kathrin Bennett 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) Friday.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the girls,” said WCHS coach Rick Orban. “I never dreamt when the season started that we would tie for first in the regular season and then place second in the tourney.
“We’ve got kids taped and braced up and all kinds of injuries. They’ve just overachieved this year. They just don’t want to lose and they never give up and that’s the neat thing about them.”
Orban had plenty of praise for his top player, who will play golf at Holy Cross College.
“It’s just incredible for her to go 40-0,” Orban said. “It’s amazing that she has stayed that focused in tennis. This is a kid who has been to State in golf three times.
“Sarah is just a special, special kid. Her injury would probably have sidelined 90 percent of kids for the season. Her determination is phenomenal. I’ve never had a player more mentally tough than she is.”
Sophomore Sarah Boyle placed seventh at No. 2 singles for the Tigers, while sophomores Rachel Alexander and Mallory Bartel were eighth at No. 2 doubles.
Wawasee finished in eighth place in the final team standings. Sam Prins and Laura Gomez placed seventh at No. 2 doubles for the Warriors after a three-set win Friday over Alexander and Bartel.
All tourney champions are All-Conference selections. At-Large All-Conference picks by the coaches were Bailey Denton (Elkhart Memorial), Sarah Smith (Northridge) and Ali Peters (Goshen). Honorable Mention All-Conference choices were Sciarra and Wallin (Warsaw), Showalter and Bennett (Concord), Marissa German and Andrea Shook (Plymouth), Kennedy Walter (NorthWood) and Kaylee Queener (Concord).
Chosen as NLC Coaches of the Year were Mike Hartnett of Elkhart Memorial and Jan Soward of Concord.
Northridge 57, Warsaw 32, Elkhart Memorial 29, Plymouth 29, Goshen 27, Concord 26, NorthWood 20, Wawasee 1.
No. 1: Sarah Hartle (WAR) defeated Sarah Smith (NR) 6-4.6-2.
No. 2: Ashley Owens (NR) defeated Corinn Whittaker (EM) no score reported.
No. 3: Courtney Clark (NR) defeated Jacqueline Sasso (WAR) 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
No. 1: Amy Stoffel-Olivia Erekson (NR) defeated Marissa German-Andrea Shook (P) 6-0, 6-3.
No. 2: Sam Harkrider-Kate Ahonen (NR) defeated Kayla Bear-Brooklyn Moore (NW) 6-2, 6-3.
No. 2: Sarah Boyle (WAR) defeated Katy Ashpole (WAW) 6-4, 7-5 for 7th place.
No. 1: Olivia Wallin-Lindsay Sciarra (WAR) defeated Katie Showalter-Kathrin Bennett (CON) 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) for 3rd place.
No. 2: Sam Prins-Laura Gomez (WAW) defeated Rachel Alexander-Mallory Bartel (WAR) 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.
No. 1: Kennedy Walter (NW) defeated Morgan Greer (WAW) 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 for 7th place.
No. 3: Trista Grove (NW) defeated Sam Klinge (WAW) 6-0, 6-1 for 7th place.
No. 1: Shannon Gunn-Haley Stouder (EM) defeated Karla Allen-Mia Hauser (WAW) 6-3, 6-1 for 7th place.
Final NLC Team Standings
Northridge, Warsaw, Concord, Elkhart Memorial and Plymouth (tied for 4th), Goshen, NorthWood, Wawasee.