WARSAW — Warsaw girls tennis celebrated a trio of birthdays Friday night.
On the very same day that sisters Maddie and Izzy Ray celebrated their 19th birthday, the Lady Tigers’ sectional championship streak also turned 19, as the home team swept challenger Columbia City 5-0 at the Warsaw Girls Tennis Sectional championships.
“Nineteen in a row. God, I’m just so pleased with it,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “And this year was interesting because a lot of people didn’t think we’d do it. So it felt very satisfying, let’s put it that way.”
“I think it’s special for not just us but for the whole team. It’s good to have it with each other, but I think it’s important for us that the whole team won,” said Maddie.
Win the whole team did, and in dominant fashion.
The Tigers dispatched their opponents rapidly — less than 45 minutes after play had begun Friday, all five matches were finished. All told, Warsaw surrendered eight total games to the Eagles.
“We played Columbia City the first match of the year. The kids were watching them yesterday, so they knew that the odds were that we were going to win, but what we talked about was to take this extremely seriously — focus on every return, every serve, minimal games and come out of this quick trying to work on what they’re going to need for Tuesday,” said Orban.
Maddie and partner Amy Herendeen gave the Tigers their first point of the night at 2 doubles, shutting out City’s Grace Newton and Gracelynn Martinez, 0-0. Rachel Boyle handed City No. 3 Madison Miner another 6-0, 6-0 defeat, Alyssa Zellers secured a 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Jette Honnens at 1 singles. Raegan Merchant and Rachel Yeager put away Hailey Cearbaugh and Addison Bishop 6-1, 6-1, at 1 doubles, and Taylor Shoaf defeated Grace Cotter, 6-4, 6-1 at 2 singles to complete the sweep.
Although it was the program’s 19th straight sectional title, there was nothing predestined about it.
The Tigers may boast five seniors among their top seven, but none were returning at their position at the start of the 2019 season. The team took its lumps early on but kept developing as the season progressed. Orban remembers a late, 4-1 win over regional-rival Culver Girls Academy as a turning point.
“When we got there, Culver was warming up, and the girls were watching them. And the Culver girls were just pounding that ball, and I called them over and said ‘OK, we’re going to go warm up on this court, this court and this court.’ And they all looked at me and said ‘You know what? We’re going to win this 5-0.’ And that was the first time all year that I’d heard that,” recalled Orban. “And that’s when I knew, OK, we’re at the confidence part that we need to be in.”
“We’ve just kind of had to fill shoes. We had some big shoes before us, so coming in this year I think we all just kind of stepped in. We have a lot of really good underclassmen, too, so we’ve been able to kind of play with them and get better as a whole team,” said Maddie.
“We definitely have our moments, but I think we bond together as a team, and we’re all super close and it’s really fun. I think that helps a lot, too – it’s just fun,” Yeager said.
With Friday’s championship win now in the history books, the Tigers turn their attention to the CGA Regional. They’ll face a familiar foe in the hosts next Tuesday, when the winner of Saturday’s Plymouth-Bremen match at the Bremen Sectional final takes on the winner of Saturday’s Peru Sectional final between Maconaquah and Manchester in the other semifinal bracket. Regional final is slated for Wednesday.
“We won 4-1 earlier in the season. Culver has got a lot of power, so I think it’s going to be an interesting match. And then after that, who knows?” said Orban.
“It’ll definitely be tough. We have to prepare ourselves, but we’re excited for it,” said Yeager. “We just want to win again and keep going as a team, see how far we can get. A lot of us are seniors, so we want to make it last.”