PLYMOUTH – Kosciusko County almost went O-fer at the Northern Lakes Conference girls tennis tournament Wednesday.
In an occurrence that Warsaw coach Rick Orban admits he can’t remember ever happening, his Tiger team not only went into the tournament without a court seeded, but lost four of five of its matchups. It would be fair to say his kids fought, but it was a sight Warsaw tennis supporters haven’t seen in quite some time.
“We’ve got ‘seasoned’ players, but not seasoned kids in the positions they are playing,” Orban stated Wednesday night. His Warsaw team were runner-up in the 2012 tournament with four of the seven players returning, but only Olivia Wallin at one doubles is playing in the same court position. “That makes a difference. Honestly, I think they played pretty well as a team given what we were able to do.”
Despite the 1-4 standing in court record Wednesday, Warsaw put up fights in all five of its court battles. The most fight, at least visually, happened in the two singles battle between Jacqueline Sasso and Northridge’s Ashley Owens. In a match that lasted almost three hours and needed line judges to settle disagreements between the two on in-out calls, it was quite the showdown in what could be best described as tournament tennis.
Sasso claimed the tiebreaker in the first set, 7-3, to grab a 7-6 first set over the reigning two singles champion, but fell 6-1 in the second set.
After taking a 20-minute break, the two returned to the court for the third set, and Owens made sure there was no dispute in taking the set with a 6-0 final.
Both Tiger doubles courts also extended its play, only to have late collapses foil championship bracket plans.
At one singles, Wallin and Marley Smith went toe-to-toe with NorthWood’s Kennedy Walter and Tori Schwartz in a slugfest of forehand winners and eruptions of emotion on both sides. After a seesaw 7-5 first set that went the way of NorthWood, the service of Schwartz and the quick thinking of Walter on return volleys put the Panthers on the right side of a 6-3 final.
The same could have been said of the two doubles team of Mallory Bartel and Mattie Doran of Warsaw, using moments of glory to hang tough with Emily Blake and Ellen Smith of Plymouth. A first-set win at 6-3 looked promising for the Tiger pair, but the rhythm faded in 6-1 and 6-2 sets as Plymouth advanced.
“Our one and two doubles both had their opportunities to win it, but gave it away,” Orban said. “That’s part of the mental aspect. Three nights in a row is great for that. So, we’ll see how we respond.”
At one singles, Sarah Boyle dictated pace for most of the first set, but also let unforced errors plague her play. Jenna Landis of Concord did her job, sending Boyle down 6-3 in the first set before pulling away with a consistent approach in the second set, closing at 6-2.
Lindsay Sciarra put together the most mechanical of the showings for Warsaw, and with it, the only win. Against Concord’s Holly Angel at three singles, Sciarra matched volleys and forehands in a rhythm that suited Sciarra’s limited mobility. Ultimately, Sciarra found the right formula with cross-court winners in a 6-3, 6-2 final.
Despite a grey cloud hanging over the sunsplashed Plymouth tennis complex, Orban was relatively pleased with his girls’ play, all things considered.
“It’s getting closer to the end of the year, and the urgency you get for the conference tournament and then sectionals is starting to wear in for these kids,” Orban said. “We’ve talked about this time of year from the start, this is the time to start working harder and get mentally tougher. I think they have gotten a little more mentally tough these past couple weeks.”
Wawasee, which hasn’t had a great go of things in the NLC this season after dropping all seven of its matches by 5-0 results, were hoping for any breakthroughs.
Its doubles play didn’t start off with the bang head coach Chris Winters had hoped. The one doubles team of Sam Prins and Jada Antonides hung around with Plymouth’s powerful duo of Marissa German and Andria Shook for a while, but the power and finesse of the Pilgrims proved worthy in a 6-0, 6-3 final.
The two doubles pair from Syracuse, Molly Smith and Natalie Fritz, kept up with the Dunlap pairing of Sam Lutain and Holyn Eldridge, but eventually succumbed to Concord love and love.
The same held true for Esther Hermann at one singles. In a rematch of Monday’s NLC duel with Plymouth’s Allie Berger, the smarts of Berger were countered with the eagerness of Hermann for much of the first set. Despite a 6-3 result in favor of Berger, Hermann didn’t deter right away. But a series of unforced errors in the second set were too much to overcome as Berger put Hermann away 6-0.
“It really showed, the mental game, that got to Esther today,” Winters said. “She just lacks the confidence. The last few games here in the season, we just haven’t put the games together. And because of that, they grow to frustration quickly and they get down mentally. And before you know it, the match is over.”
Taelor Grose of Memorial didn’t waste a lot of time in taking care of Priscilla Par at three singles, winning love and one in just over an hour on the court.
With the sun beginning its ascent toward the treeline just behind Nixon Field to the west, Katy Ashpole and Corinn Whitaker of Memorial at two singles labored on. With just a handful of courts still in use as the tournament stretched into its fourth hour of play, Whitaker left the Wawasee junior frustrated as her variety of finishes were working. Whitaker would send Ashpole to the consolation bracket after a 6-2, 6-3 finish.
After struggling through the NLC slate and a rough first day, Winters hopes her girls can find peace in solace knowing tomorrow is another day to improve.
“I have already been in discussion with those coming off, that now our goal is to win the consolation bracket,” Winters said. “I don’t know if taking the edge off not having to play the top seeds is a motivating factor or not. I still think we can be successful in taking a couple spots here at conference. That’s our goal is to be a little bit better than we were here last year.”
Goshen and Northridge both had all five of its courts win to advance to the semi-finals of the championship bracket. Leading the charge for the Raiders was the one doubles team of Olivia Ereksen and Courtney Clark, a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Memorial’s Delaney Gilbert and Haley Stouder. Ereksen was a one doubles champion last spring while Clark was the three singles champ a year ago.
Plymouth have three advancing with wins, followed by Concord, Memorial and NorthWood with two each and Warsaw with Sciarra still undefeated.
Day two of the NLC Tournament will start around 4:15 p.m. Thursday. The championship and consolation finals are scheduled for Friday afternoon in Plymouth. If rain should hamper either Thursday or Friday, play will resume on Saturday at the Plymouth tennis complex.