PLYMOUTH — With only the final round of the Northern Lakes Conference Tournament left to play, Warsaw’s girls tennis team was still in good position to follow up an undefeated run through the round robin with enough points to clinch the overall NLC title.
But the Lady Tigers won only one of three singles championships, while regular-season runner-up Concord collected titles at 2 singles and 2 doubles, fielded players in four championship matches and never finished any lower than third at any position, and host Plymouth shook things up enough to sneak in between the Minutemen and Warsaw in the final tourney standings. The result was both a tournament and an overall championship for Concord as Warsaw slotted in behind the Pilgrims for third place in the tournament and second best in the final NLC standings.
A dramatic 2 singles championship represented a four-point swing between the Minutemen and the Tigers, and the showdown between Warsaw senior Ella Knight and Concord junior Regan Landis lasted deep into the night.
In the final match on in absolutely frigid conditions under the lights at the Hunter Tennis Complex, the always-steady Knight made some uncharacteristic mistakes during a third-set tiebreaker, and Landis capitalized. After taking an initial 3-1 lead in the tiebreak, three double faults by the Warsaw mainstay and Kalamazoo College commit handed Landis the 2 singles title in a reversal of the competitors’ three-setter at Concord back on May 2, when Knight came out on top to clinch a 3-2 team win.
Friday’s 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) loss derailed an attempt at an NLC championship four-peat by Knight, although the veteran could console herself with at-large All-NLC honors following the coaches meeting.
“I was looking forward to Ella because she would’ve been only the fifth girl I’ve ever had to win four in a row,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “But she struggled, and her opponent played incredibly well.”
The 1 singles finale represented another head-to-head between the Tigers and the Minutemen, but Warsaw came out on top in that one, the penultimate match to wrap at the tourney.
Senior Liza Lewis stormed back from a 7-5 first-set loss with a pair of 6-1 wins in the second and third sets against Concord’s Maya Klopfenstein to claim the Tigers their lone championship at the conference’s top position.
“Liza played really strong,” said Orban. “Winning this at 1 singles is a huge feat. I’m very proud of her.”
While Lewis ultimately won her championship, the mere fact that she lost her first set was surprising given her dominance in a lopsided, 1-0 win over Klopfenstein in the players’ first meeting in Dunlap during round robin play. Both Klopfenstein and Landis adjusted significantly from that May 2 dual, resorting to a much more conservative style that seemed to suit their scrappy style of play and visibly frustrated both Lewis and Knight at times.
“The matches were really close. The competition tonight really played well. They pushed the kids,” Orban said.
“If you’ll notice what they did, they didn’t go for high-risk shots at all. That ball stayed in play the whole time. Played extremely smart tennis.”
Meanwhile for the Tigers Friday, sophomore Alyssa Zellers couldn’t quite grab enough momentum following a 6-1 loss in the opening set with Plymouth’s Miranda German and came up short in a 7-3 second-set tiebreaker to finish in second place at the 3 singles position. Sophomore Taylor Shoaf and junior Rachel Boyle wound up in sixth place via a 4-2 loss to Goshen’s Brooke Grewe and Kathryn Detwiler, while 2 doubles partners Raegan Merchant and Rachel Yeager finished their back draw strong with a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over NorthWood’s Riley Graber and Alex Jesse for third-place honors there.
“What I always look for in the tournament is where we have improved. I think our 2 doubles just improved incredibly,” said Orban. “They played NorthWood for the final match, and in essence, NorthWood had their — I think she’ll play 1 singles in sectional — at 2 doubles, and it didn’t faze our girls one bit. So I’m extremely happy with what I saw from our 2 doubles tonight. And I think Liza is going to stay tough. Ella is going to stay tough. Alyssa is going to stay tough. So I’m thrilled with our 2 doubles. That should give us a point down the road.”
NorthWood wound up in fourth place at the NLC Tourney, in keeping with the Panthers’ fourth-place finish in the round robin, where they finished 4-3.
Junior Reegan Miller earned her team one of two third-place finishes at the tourney, claiming a 6-4, 7-5 win over Plymouth’s Cortni Cook for third place at 1 singles and was later named All-NLC At-Large by the conference coaches.
“She played really well. It was very exciting,” said NorthWood coach Tiffiny Schwartz. “She had a great tournament, and I think she played really well in the regular season so I felt it was very deserving on her part to get that honor and to be able to be also thought of from the coaches, that is quite an honor.”
Also finishing third for the Panthers were junior Kennedy Wiens and senior Betsy Nunemaker with a 3-2 win over Elkhart Memorial’s Hannah Hakim and Paula Almirall in the consoles at 1 doubs, and the duo was later selected for All-NLC Honorable Mention. Junior Gretchen Adams fell 7-6(9-7), 6-2 versus Plymouth’s Kyla Heckaman in the third-place match at 2 singles, and Graber and Jesse did likewise with their loss to Warsaw’s 2 doubles tandem, while Lauren Mikel settled in in eighth place with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 loss to Wawasee’s Kennedy Church in their 3 singles final.
“We were going for third and fourth place in a lot of positions, and I felt like where we were — some of us won, some of us didn’t — we played well. It was good, close matches for the most part,” explained Schwartz. “I felt like with what I could see we really probably weren’t going to move up with the way everything else was going and the numbers. I always feel like if we can be in the top four in the conference, that’s always a good year so I’m very pleased with this group to be able to have that, and especially because we were battling injuries and doing different things changing our lineup and other things.”
That win by Church was the sophomore’s first, and it was one of few silver linings at the tourney for a Wawasee squad that finished in eighth place at the tilt to tie for seventh in the final NLC standings after a 1-7 round robin campaign.
“Kennedy Church got her first conference win. She’s just brand new at varsity this year playing singles this year, so that was a nice win for her. Just kind of taking the silver linings of everything right now,” said Warriors coach Shane Staley.
Also Friday, Plymouth’s McKenzie Scheetz and Leah Smith topped Concord’s Keegan Thursby and Meghan Godzisz 3-0 for the 1 doubles championship, while Concord’s Kelsee O’Dell and Lauren Pollock beat Plymouth’s Mary Beatty and Audie Plothow 3-0 for the 2 doubles championship.
Klopfenstein was named All-NLC at large for the Minutemen alongside Knight and Miller, and Thursby and Godsicz were given honorable mention along with Plymouth’s Cook and Heckaman and Memorial’s Layla Jojo.