SOUTH WHITLEY – Wawasee and Whitko’s girls tennis programs are going to very familiar with each other after this week is over.
After crossing paths at the Angola Invite May 4 and then squaring off against one another Tuesday night in a 3-2 win by Wawasee, the two ships passing one another will need to take notice of each’s course.
In what was a sectional preview as both teams will meet in the semi-final at the Warsaw Girls Tennis Sectional Thursday, Wawasee’s singles play led it to victory Tuesday. But, boy, did they have to work.
Priscilla Par looked to have the easiest time of the three Wawasee wins, beating Mikayla Findlay 6-3, 6-0 at three singles in a quick advance. Esther Hermann also had a relatively easy time of things, even though Laura Hippensteel pushed Hermann in a 6-4, 6-3 Hermann victory at one singles.
Katy Ashpole’s match with Whitko No. 2 Aressa Tackwell actually became the difference between the two teams. Ashpole looked like she would cruise with a 6-1 first set, but Tackwell took a game lead twice before Ashpole forced a tiebreaker in the second set. Taking the tiebreaker, Ashpole won the court, 7-6 (7-1), giving Wawasee the team win heading into the sectional in two days.
“I think the girls are getting really tired,” said Wawasee assistant coach Lisa Ernsberger, filling in for head coach Chris Winters, who was watching her daughter, Hannah, throw discus at the Warsaw Girls Track Sectional. “They had a really tough weekend at the conference meet against some really good competition. But the girls will regroup for Thursday. I think tonight will help since we’ll see these girls again.”
Whitko head coach Michael Blevins was equally impressed with the competition on the two singles court, and thinks Tackwell could be a difference maker in the rematch.
“I really liked what I saw from Aressa at two singles,” Blevins said. “I know she lost, but I think she knows what she needs to do now to beat the other girl. I think it helps playing someone a second time. She should do much better Thursday.”
Whitko grabbed its two court wins in doubles play. In a tidy 45 minutes, Laura Alfieri and Abby Marshall played a rather clean match in defeating Jada Antonides and Sam Prins 6-1, 6-1. The two doubles couple of Candice Swick and Erin Murphy rallied back and forth with Wawasee’s Molly Smith and Natalie Fritz, but found its horseshoe in a 6-2, 7-5 winner.
Wawasee (4-8) will enter the tournament on a bit of a high note with Tuesday’s success against the Wildcats. The Warriors struggled mightily at the highly competitive Northern Lakes Conference tournament, finishing last and winning just two of 15 courts played. But, Wawasee were able to win four non-conference matches this season including Whitko. And with just Warsaw entered from the NLC, the Wawasee coaches hope the stigma of the regular season can reverse course.
“I think we are really excited about the way the draw fell for us,” Ernsberger said. “We are hoping to be able to get through Whitko and are planning on seeing Warsaw Friday. We are looking forward to facing some of the girls we have seen a couple times already.”
Whitko, on the other hand, enter the sectional looking for some identity after falling to 4-8 on the year and staggering through a rugged couple of weeks of tennis.
“I’m looking forward to the rematch, I think we have a good shot,” Blevins said. “I think tonight we really looked good, as good as we have all season. Our girls have had some rest, so we should be ready to go. I think this match today we all played really well all around.”
The sectional itself will have the two primary favorites in Columbia City and Warsaw, who meet in the first round Wednesday. City is coming in after winning Monday night at Central Noble to improve to 10-8 on the season and is led by the powerful Celine Rongos at one singles, who is 17-1 in play this season. City’s one doubles team of Sydney Ford and Macie Hinen have also been tough this season.
Warsaw, which won just once this season – a 5-0 result at Wawasee in April – have had improved play from Jacqueline Sasso and Lindsay Sciarra at two and three singles, respectively, as well as the one doubles team of Olivia Wallin and Marley Smith. Sciarra finished third and Sasso fifth at the NLC last weekend.
Tippecanoe Valley have been up and down all season, recently defeating Manchester in match play but suffering tough losses to Triton and Northfield heading down the stretch into tournament play. The loss to Northfield Monday night was a 5-0 score. Head coach Matt Mobley’s team have been led at one singles by Michelle Peters as well as having Hannah Dalrymple and Tiffyni Tackett settle into the other two singles positions.
Valley will draw the winner of the Columbia City-Warsaw matchup for a Thursday semi-final date. Wawasee and Whitko will play opposite. The Thursday winners will meet Friday at Warsaw for all the sectional marbles. Play begins at 5 p.m. each day and admission is free for the public.
Warsaw has been dominant in the sectional, winning the past 12 titles and own 22 in the school’s history. Wawasee, which broke Warsaw’s reign with its only two titles in 1998 and 2000, can lay claim to just those two titles in its history.
Columbia City have to go back to 1981 for its last sectional trophy and also won another in 1979. Whitko and Valley have never won a sectional girls tennis title.