WARSAW — After her singles lineup had finished its sweep of Warsaw and thus clinched the team win, NorthWood coach Tiffiny Schwartz and her daughter joked that it had been eight years since the Panthers’ last victory over the Tigers.
As it turns out, it had only been three, but Tuesday’s 4-1 Northern Lakes Conference victory over rival Warsaw at the Racquet Club was still a feel-good win for NorthWood.
“Any conference win is a big win. It’s kind of nice to be able to do that, and they were at three conference wins as well, so that helps,” said Schwartz.
“It’s just nice for us to be able to come in here and get a win and be able to play. Just knowing that we have that is obviously going to be better for us down the road.”
With limited courts available at Tuesday’s varsity-only indoor meet, the No. 1 singles match was the first on the court, but it was the last singles match to finish up.
Warsaw junior Alyssa Zellers stormed out to a 6-3 win in the first set and led 5-3 in the second before Wood senior Reegan Miller battled back with four straight wins to split with Zellers. Miller used that momentum to put Zellers away quickly in a 6-2 third set, clinching the Panthers their third match point of the night.
“They had a lot of really good points. There were a lot of good rallies. It was just a punching fest for awhile,” said Schwartz.
“After the first set, the biggest thing I said to her was ‘She likes the ball low. She likes it low and hard, and that’s where she wants it. After she’s hitting the ball, she’s letting it drop even lower to get her shot.’ And she was putting away backhand winners left and right. If we got it to her backhand at all, she was putting a winner away. I just told her ‘I think we need to mix it up more. I think you need to go more to her forehand and make her hit more balls with her forehand,’” Schwartz explained. “I thought that she made great adjustments. She started to make her hit more forehands and she mixed her shot up a little bit, too, and that helped a lot.”
“She got nervous, simple as that. She couldn’t get a serve in. She just flat got nervous,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban of his No. 1. “We’ve talked about it, but it’s something you have to resolve yourself. Then once she lost that second set, she was nervous the entire third set. She’s a three-year starter. We talk and talk and talk about it, and it’s something that she just has to get comfortable with.
“She has to start believing in herself more. And if she does that, the way she plays, she could just be dynamite.”
Alex Jesse earned NorthWood its second match point opposite Taylor Shoaf at 2 singles. Shoaf was making her return from a layoff with a minor injury and fell behind early before forcing a first-set tiebreaker. But Jesse held her off via a 9-7 tiebreak and then kept the pressure on for a 6-3 second-set win.
“To come back the way she did, I was pretty proud of her because she hadn’t played for awhile. To go to the tiebreak, that was a good comeback. The thing is, when you go to the tiebreak and you’re doing certain things you have to maintain that,” said Orban.
“Too many times you see it where kids will win the first set, lose the second set and then lose the third set big. It’s a matter of getting them ready to think about what’s happening, and that’s my job. We’ll talk about it, we’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll get that resolved.”
Gretchen Adams gave Wood its first match point opposite Warsaw’s Rachel Boyle, who struggled to keep her shots in. Although the duo were the last of the three singles courts on at the Racquet Club, they were the first off as Adams claimed a quick, 6-2, 6-2 win.
“I think Gretchen just kind of came in, and she wanted to get it done,” said Schwartz. “And I think it does help a little bit for Reegan and for Alex to start right away. There might have been a little nerves that they were out here and everybody is watching their match. When Gretchen got out here she was able to be relaxed because they were already started and not everybody was looking at her.”
With nothing on the line but conference tournament seedings at their positions and some pride, the two teams’ doubles crews finally took the courts nearly two hours into Tuesday’s meet. Caroline Mullett and Kate Stillson collected Wood’s fourth match point via 7-6(2), 6-1 decision over Amy Herendeen and Maddie Ray, but Rachel Yeager and Reagan Merchant spoiled the shutout with a 6-4, 6-2 win over NorthWood’s Riley Graber and Lauren Mikel.
Warsaw dips to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the NLC. The Tigers will play Concord Wednesday and close out their conference slate opposite Goshen next Monday. NorthWood improves to 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the NLC. They’ll close out their NLC round robin with Wawasee Thursday in a match that looks like it may well end up back at the Racquet Club due to weather forecasts.
“It could be another one of those matches like tonight. We knew Warsaw singles were going to be decent so we knew we had to come in here and play strong knowing that doubles was going to go later,” Schwartz said.
“I think Wawasee will be tough. They’re playing everyone really well. We definitely cannot overlook them. It’s not a guaranteed win.”