ELKHART – When igniting a fire, it just takes a spark. Concord’s start to the Elkhart Central Girls Tennis Regional championship match was more like a flame thrower.
Four of its five courts ran out to quick one set leads and carried forth in a 4-1 win over NorthWood Wednesday afternoon.
It became a mirror match for the two teams, which played to a 4-1 final in the head-to-head matchup back in April with the same courts finding victories. But it was the way to which Concord got its victories Wednesday that was remarkable.
Concord’s one doubles needed a tidy 51 minutes to shut out Lauren Mikel and Riley Graber. Despite some crafty returns for points by NorthWood’s duo, Keegan Thursby’s power and Lauren Pollock’s finesse marched the duo on in impressive fashion.
Several of the observers felt the swing court was the two singles matchup between Alex Jesse and Meaghan Godzisz. In perhaps the most stunning development, Godzisz took total control of the first set in a 6-0 score. Jesse would find some resolve in the second set, but Godzisz was too tough in a 6-3 closer. At 2-0 with its ace, Regan Landis, also cruising, Concord was in great shape.
“I was a little surprised,” noted NorthWood head coach Tif Schwartz of Jesse’s slow start. “She was going for shots and they just weren’t falling. I thought yesterday she started out really strong, and so for her to not start out strong today, in my mind, I was just not expecting that. She pulled it around and did start to come back and get into it. That’s the downfall of losing 0-6 in the first set and starting to finally catch your game, it’s just hard to catch up.”
NorthWood would scrape one point back when Gretchen Adams finished off Lauren Boessler, 6-0, 6-4, keeping NorthWood’s hopes alive, but by a thread.
As Adams was coming off the court, the Concord two doubles team of Kelsee O’Dell and Kaylee Price were up 5-2 in the second set and readying a finish of Kate Stillson and Caroline Mullet. But the Panther duo kept chipping away, and chipping some more. All of a sudden it was 5-4, then 5-5, then 6-5 after NorthWood broke Concord’s serve. A smash by Stillson closed out the game and set, 7-5, with NorthWood still alive and in a third set.
While that was happening on the far court, nearest the fans was Landis, who was solving the game plan of her friend and summer doubles partner Reegan Miller. The two, which squared off in both the regular season round robin and at the Northern Lakes Conference tournament, were no strangers to much of anything. Landis, however, had Miller scouted well and began playing to Miller’s tendencies. The predicted defense turned into opportunistic offense enough to post a 6-2, 6-1 victory, sending Concord to a regional title.
“I knew coming in I was dreading having to play her, especially for a third time,” Landis said of her matchup with Miller. Landis beat Miller in all three meetings. “I always enjoy playing her because she’s a good player, but it’s a mind game because we know each other really well.
“I realized I was playing more defense in the second set, but kept sending balls more to the corners and deeper so she couldn’t get good swings. I’ve been able to find success there, and just keeping balls in play, but if I can move my opponent around, it allows me to pick out some shots that I can put away.”
The two doubles court was all that needed to be resolved, and Concord head coach Jan Soward was pleased with the moxie her team showed after the second set collapse. Concord jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then after NorthWood survived deuce four times to pull back to 4-2, an emphatic hammer from O’Dell and two points from Price closed out a 6-2 final.
“NorthWood is always a tough team, they always come out tough and they are always prepared,” stated Soward. “That’s the thing, this team, I said are you fired up and they just go, ‘yeah.’ Then I know they are, but to me I have to be like ‘fire up!’ I said just one more, we gotta do one more, and they always go out and do the job.”
Concord wins its third straight regional and fourth overall. In each of the last three titles, Concord has disposed of NorthWood along the way, in the semis in 2017 and in the finals in the last two years. NorthWood still hasn’t won a regional title since 2009, but Schwartz wasn’t disappointed in Wednesday’s result.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match,” Schwartz said. “Concord is really good, we knew that. They don’t just win the conference for nothing. Obviously they were strong and won the conference outright in a couple positions. So we knew we were going to have our hands full.”
Concord will move onto meet No. 8 Delta at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Homestead Semi-state. No. 10 Fort Wayne Carroll will play either No.16 Hamilton Southeastern or No. 1 Indianapolis Cathedral in the other semi-state matchup.