KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — Mother Nature threw a dramatic pause into Thursday night’s Northern Lakes Conference tennis meet between Warsaw and Wawasee.
With the Lady Tigers leading two match points to one, the Warriors up a set at 3 singles and the second set of 1 singles play looking dead even, rain started to fall on the courts in Syracuse, and, after some discussion, the remaining two matches were moved indoors to the Warsaw Racquet Club. Play resumed over an hour later.
Alyssa Zellers held off Wawasee No. 1 Kendra Doerr for a straight-set win at 1 singles to clinch an eventual 3-2 win by the Tigers, and it was one Warasw coach Rick Orban was happy to get.
“It’s a good match. You win it 3-2, it’s a win. And I think going down the road, it’s an important win,” said Orban of his team’s narrow victory over their conference and sectional rivals. “They’re playing well. Kudos to the kids. I just am very, very happy with the win.”
Zellers only narrowly claimed a win over Doerr in the first set at 1 singles via a 7-2 tiebreak, and the two were knotted at two games apiece when rain halted play in Syracuse. Once play finally resumed at the Warsaw Racquet Club, it was nip-tuck the whole way with each player breaking the other’s serve until Zellers finally held up 5-4 to finish off a 7-6(2), 6-4 win and give her team the meet-clinching third match point.
“When you go from outdoors to indoors, it takes just a little bit to get accustomed to it, and you could see that almost immediately with the serve being broken. Jan and I were sitting here talking, and we said ‘Well, whoever is going to hold serve is going to win.’ And when Alyssa was up 5-4 and she was serving, at that point we felt pretty good about it. Alyssa is tough in the clutch,” said Orban.
“Kendra, I’m incredibly proud of her. She played really hard,” said Wawasee coach Lynette Jackson. “I think she struggled with the conditions today more than she has in the past but really was working hard on her shots. And that was a good player that she was up against, who had a little bit more of an off pace at times, which I think sort of got her out of her rhythm.”
Warsaw got its first two match points on the doubles courts in Syracuse, and those matches were the most lopsided of the evening. Amy Herendeen and Maddie Ray topped Abby Morehead and Tate Cowan via 6-1, 6-0 decision at the No. 2 position to give the Tigers their first point of the night, and Rachel Yeager and Reagan Merchant combined for a 2-3 win over Kaitlyn Graber and Molly Jones at the 1 position as Warsaw briefly took a 2-0 lead in Syracuse.
“They’re solid doubles players,” Orban said of his varsity tandems. “They’re improving every match. Their movement has gotten better. Their aggressiveness is better. So we were pretty sure we’d take those just looking at what’s been going on at Wawasee’s team.”
Peyton Rookstool answered back with Wawasee’s first match point, defeating Anastasia Kalikova 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 at 2 singles in the last match to conclude before rain started falling.
“She’s a phenomenal player. She’s quick. She’s got great shots. She used them really well today,” said Jackson of her No. 2 player.
But despite the loss, Orban was pleased with the play of Kalikova, who bumped up from his JV lineup in place of Taylor Schoaf at the last minute and still made a competitive match of it.
“It’s one of those things that you never forget as a coach. Taylor Schoaf, who is normally our No. 2 singles player basically has an injury. She’ll probably be out maybe a week ago. She can hit a little bit, but she’ll be ready to play when she can. On the way here, we have a 3 singles JV freshman who has been playing better and better and better. Jan and I talked, and we just looked at each other and we said ‘Who are we going to put there?’ And we both said Anastasia Kalikova. So I walked back, and I said ‘Hey, you’re playing 2 singles varsity tonight,’ and the look on her face, it was just precious. It wasn’t quite panic, but it was kind of excitement and panic,” explained Orbanwith a chuckle.
“Boy, she was stupendous. I’m so proud of her. You take a kid who’s never played, it’s a big match, and all of a sudden she goes to a tiebreak in her first set. We were just thrilled for her.”
In the last match to conclude Thursday, Wawasee No. 3 Elizabeth Kleopfer gave her team a — by then — academic second point as she finished off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Rachel Boyle at the Warsaw Racquet Club. It may not have affected the outcome of the meet, but it was a heartening sign for the Warriors, who will likely see the Tigers again at several positions come NLC Tournament time and could very well see them again during sectional play next month.
“I think they have a great chance at sectional. I think this match could’ve gone either way tonight. We’re going to shore up our doubles play, and they’ll be getting better as well,” said Jackson.
“I’m really happy with how the team looks right now and how they’re kind of building up to sectional time.”
Warsaw improves to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the NLC with Thursday’s win. The Tigers travel to Fort Wayne Concordia Friday.
Wawasee dips to 6-3 with a 1-3 NLC mark. The Warriors have gone 0-2 in NLC meets this week since the sudden resignation of head coach Shane Staley, but it hasn’t been for lack of effort and both meets have come by razor-thin margins.
“The girls are awesome, and they work hard. They have taken this in stride and really just decided to use it as a springboard to play better and do better,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team. They’re supportive, and their parents are supportive. It’s a great group, and I look forward to finishing out the season and hopefully doing the best we can.”
Wawasee will host West Noble next Monday.