CULVER — When it comes to state tournament time, the goal is always to survive and advance.
But with a likely rematch with Northern Lakes Conference-rival Plymouth looming in Wednesday’s Culver Girls Academy Regional final, Warsaw coach Rick Orban wanted a little more than that in Tuesday’s opener. He also wanted to see his girls play to their potential, despite being the easy favorite opposite Manchester.
The Lady Tigers began their regional title defense with a 5-0 sweep of upset-minded Manchester, while things played out as scripted on the other side of the Gable Tennis Complex, with Plymouth collecting a similar, 5-0 sweep of the host Eagles. Those outcomes set the stage for a third straight regional championship showdown between the conference foes Wednesday.
“Very pleased. Everybody played, I thought, up to their potential. Manchester is a weaker team. We expected to win, but you just never know. That upset is sitting there looking at you in the face,” said Orban.
“The goal was to make it to the regional finals. We assumed it would be Plymouth, and that’s who we’re playing tomorrow night.”
The Lady Tigers’ singles lineup rolled through the competition, surrendering just seven total games on the way to straight-set victories on each of the three courts. Ella Knight put away Hale Briner, 6-1, 6-0, at 2 singles, and Liza Lewis and Alyssa Zellers collected a pair of 2 and 1 wins at 1 and 3 singles, respectively, versus Manchester counterparts Kelsey Eichenauer and Lydia Little.
“Singles just rolled; I mean, they really did,” said Orban. “The seniors turned it on, naturally. Alyssa turned it on.”
While it may have taken them a little longer, Warsaw’s doubles lineup completed the sweep versus the Squires.
It took Rachel Yeager and Raegan Merchant a set to really get going, but they put the exclamation point on Tuesday’s semifinal win with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Rebekah Pyle and Lauren Metzger at 2 doubles. Perhaps even more heartening was Taylor Shoaf’s and Rachel Boyle’s 6-4, 6-1 win over Kendra Auler and Eva Bazzoni, as the duo bounced back from their team’s only loss at last Friday’s sectional final with Wawasee.
“One doubles tonight played the way they can play. We had a little talk before the match about last Friday’s match, and we talked about reducing our unforced errors, reducing our double faults, reducing the missed volleys — pretty much reducing everything,” chuckled Orban. “And I just told them ‘You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to have fun, you’ve got to focus on what you’re doing every shot,’ and, boy, they really played well tonight. I was super, super pleased with them.”
Plymouth was just as dominant in Tuesday’s other semifinal, as Cortni Cook defeated Camille Thoms, 1-0 at 1 singles, Kyla Heckaman downed Lilia Rosique, 2-0 at 2 singles, and Miranda German topped Chao-chin Hsu 2 and 2 at 3 singles. McKenzie Scheetz and Leah Smith put away Rachael Dodson and Madeline Rahe 0-4 at the 1 doubles position, and — like Warsaw on the other side of the Gable Complex — the Pilgrims’ 2 doubles completed the sweep as Mary Beatty and Audie Plothow outlasted Abby Ericson and Anna Moreno 3-6, 7-6(1), 6-3.
The last time Warsaw played Plymouth back in mid-April, the Tigers swept the three singles matches to prevail via 3-2 decision, but some things have changed since then.
In their last meeting at the NLC Tournament championship not quite two weeks ago, German earned a reprisal over Zellers, 6-1, 7-6(3). Warsaw’s 2 doubles lineup has also changed since the regular-season head-to-head with Plymouth more than a month ago. The Tigers are hoping for a regional championship three-peat, and they’re expecting a battle.
“I expect it to be close. I expect it to be hard-fought,” said Orban. “I expect Liza and Ella to win, and, to be very honest with you, I expect Alyssa to win. She just had a bad night (at the NLC tourney), and if she plays the way she can, she should beat her just like she did in the regular season. One doubles, they’re going to have to come to play. Plymouth’s 1 doubles is very, very tough. Two doubles, we’ve got a totally different 2 doubles than the last time we played them, and Rachel and Raegan are playing very well together.”
“Will I take a 3-2 win for a three-peat? You bet ya’,” Orban continued. “But I’d love to see it 4-1; I’d love to see it 5-0. But I’m sure Plymouth feels the exact same way.”