MIDDLEBURY – The bracket at the Northridge Girls Tennis Regional played out Tuesday as most expected, with NorthWood and Concord both earning team wins to make it to Wednesday night’s regional final. But the matter to which each team got there was not the smooth sailing either had hoped.
NorthWood’s matchup with Fremont had all of the Panther singles courts finding quick and sustained success. At No. 1 singles, Alex Jesse dismantled Brianna Slee with a slew of baseline smashes and powerful first serves. The 6-0, 6-0 win had Jesse off the court in less than 45 minutes. Shortly after Jesse came off the court, teammate Reegan Miller wrapped up her 6-1, 6-0 win over Anna Eisinger at No. 2. Miller was steady as usual, taking advantage of Eisinger’s unforced errors.
At No. 3, Gretchen Adams got into a slugfest with Ava Eisinger, taking the first set 6-0 rather quickly. Eisinger took the cue on some Adams mishits in the second set, but the NorthWood junior, who was the clinching court in the sectional championship win over Fairfield, rallied to win the second set 6-2.
“It was good to seeing Alex playing that way again,” said NorthWood head coach Tif Schwartz. “She is really coming around and today is probably the best match she has played this year as far as her movement and her hitting. Takes a lot of pressure off to come out and win that quickly.”
Where Wood rolled in singles play, its doubles teams were pushed a little more than expected. After the No. 1 tandem of Kennedy Wiens and Betsy Nunemaker quickly built a 3-0 lead in the first set, Fremont’s Kirsten Lovett and Adrianna McDowell won the next two games to pull back to 3-2. NorthWood would win the next four games to take the first set 6-2, only for Fremont to get its footing in the second set, taking it 6-2, and adding a little spice to the night. A loss in the team regional would eliminate either doubles team from the state individual tournament, so matters got serious in the third. A little pep talk from Schwartz saw her duo respond in a big way with a 6-0 victory.
Fremont’s lone win came at No. 2 doubles, which had Taylor Lovett and Olivia Dornbush play a spirited match, winning the first set 6-4, but seeing NorthWood’s Riley Graber and Lauren Mikel respond with a 6-4 win of their own. Graber’s clever play at the net, which had her pound home point after point, looked like NorthWood would make a clean sweep. But a few unforced errors from Wood, along with some sharp makes from Lovett, had Fremont rally from down 6-5 to tie, then win the tiebreaker 7-3 to claim a small consolation to end its season.
“We started off playing strong and playing well, and then got into the mode of playing not to lose,” Schwartz said of Wiens and Nunemaker. “Fremont played better in the second set than we did, and we made more mistakes in the second. Did they make us make those mistakes? Maybe. But I felt like we were playing not to lose.
“I told them, ‘You need to play for yourself. The team has already won. So now, it’s a matter of do you want to stay undefeated and keep moving forward or do you want this to be the match to makes it so you can’t move forward.’ They came out and played much better in the third.”
Concord, in a similar fashion to NorthWood, earned two wins lightning quick, then get its third, but have to sit through two long matches to wrap up. And with two losses, makes Wednesday’s final a little more juicy.
The Minutemen, which won the NLC team championship then didn’t lose a court in sweeping through the Northridge sectional, had its No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams win with matching 6-1, 6-0 scores. A 6-0, 6-2 win from Reagan Landis at No. 2 singles locked up the advancement, but it was trouble in paradise as both Maya Klopfenstein at No. 1 and Camille Lozier at No. 3 were handed three-set losses by Erica Maneke and Paige Skinner.
The late developments had Schwartz very interested.
“Reegan and Reagan have played each other multiple times, and Gretchen and Camille have played multiple times, and I think both have won,” said Schwartz, who noted her No. 1 doubles team has split with Concord this year, as well. “Maya and Alex, unless they have played in USTA tournaments, they haven’t played each other. I think it opens up a whole new match, and it’s a new day. I’m excited by what I am seeing on our side of the court, which is a bonus and beneficial for us.”
The championship match between Concord (12-3) and NorthWood (12-6) will take place at 5 p.m. Concord is looking to repeat as regional champion and claim its third regional title while NorthWood is seeking its second title and first since 2009.