WARSAW – Katy Ashpole admitted that the thought of losing her sectional tennis match entered her mind Thursday night.
Fortunately, for Ashpole and her Wawasee team it didn’t stay there for too long.
Thanks in large part to some words of wisdom about winning for Wawasee coach Chris Winters.
“I told you, I willed you to win,” said a delighted Winters as she hugged a sweat-drenched Ashpole.
Ashpole got a lot of hugs Thursday night and deservedly so after rallying to win her No. 2 singles marathon match versus Whitko to give the Warriors a thrilling 3-2 sectional semifinal win.
Wawasee, now 5-8, advances to the sectional title match versus host Warsaw (3-10) Friday at 5 p.m. Warsaw defeated the Warriors 5-0 when the pair of NLC and county rivals met in Syracuse back on April 25.
Wawasee used the same formula to edge the Wildcats as they had in a 3-2 regular-season win Tuesday night in South Whitley. The Warriors won all three singles matches.
This time, however, it was far from easy.
Ashpole, a junior, had to rally several times to outlast senior Aressa Tackwell 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a match lasting 2:40. Ashpole had defeated Tackwell 6-1, 7-6 (7-1) on Tuesday.
“This means the World to me,” said an exhausted Ashpole. “I did think about losing and that if I did I would let the whole team down. After the first set, I thought I was going to lose.
“Coach helped me a lot. She motivated me. I got down on myself early, but then I relaxed and said just go for it in that second set when I was behind.”
Ashpole trailed 2-0 and 4-2 in the third and deciding set before winning the final four games to send the Warriors into the sectional finale.
“I looked at her eye-to-eye in that second set and told her that she was going to win,” said Winters about her pep talk to Ashpole. “I was very forward with her. It’s a head game with Katy when she gets down and I could see it in her demeanor early on.
“I just told her to focus on one point at a time. She needed to move her feet and she did. I just told her I was willing her to win.”
The Wildcats, who finish at 4-9, took a 2-0 lead with straight set wins at both doubles matches. The No. 1 duo of juniors Abby Marshall and Laura Alfieri topped sophomore Jada Antonides and junior Sam Prins 6-2, 6-0. The team of juniors Erin Murphy and Candice Swick then finished off a 6-0, 6-3 win over sophomores Natalie Fritz and Molly Smith at No. 2.
Wawasee evened the match with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 singles. Junior Priscilla Par defeated freshman Mikayla Findley 6-3, 6-1 at No. 3 and junior Esther Hermann topped senior Laura Hippensteel 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1.
That left it all up to Ashpole, who delivered in a big, big way.
“I’m really tired,” replied Ashpole following the grueling match played in hot conditions and amidst plenty of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. “I had a match like this as a freshman that went like three hours. I did win that one too.”
Whitko coach Michael Blevins knew his team had given all they had.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Blevins. “We just told Aressa to stay calm, keep playing and keep the points going. She did a great job. She hustled for every point and as a coach that’s all you can ask for.
“I’m very happy with how our doubles teams performed tonight. I told them to stay on top of their game like they did on Tuesday and they did that.”
Winters knows the mindset her team will need Friday in trying to keep host Warsaw from a 13th straight sectional championship.
“I tell my girls that on any given day any team is beatable,” said Winters. “That’s the way we need to come in here Friday.”