By Dan Gilles
A banner season for the Avon girls tennis team, in which it won the LCAAA tournament and West Shore Conference outright titles for the third consecutive year, will continue with some representation in the Division I Northeast District Tournament for the second straight year.
After senior Carmela Mostardi became the first Division I district qualifier in school history last season (after qualifying for the Division II districts as a freshman), the doubles team of junior Annie DeLuca and sophomore Madisyn Rini will represent Avon at districts after finishing third at this weekend’s Division I Sectional Tournament at Oberlin College.
Avon Lake resident Sarah Patrick, a senior at Magnificat, made her sectional debut last weekend a memorable one, teaming up with fellow senior Victoria Johnson to win the sectional championship and become district qualifiers for the first time.
The area had a few near misses. Avon junior Halle Mentler and senior Abby Schwartz each came one match away from finishing in the top four at sectionals – the top four at singles and doubles automatically qualify for districts – while Avon Lake junior Erin Hrivnak, who came in as the third-seeded singles player, was upset for the second straight year by Magnificat’s Lauren O’Malley.
Avon coach Caroline Hughes was pleased with her girls’ performances.
“I know this is further than these girls have gotten in the past, so I feel really good for all of them,” she said. “The wind was tough out here (Oct. 3), which made it tough to readjust (from playing indoors). But, they did really well. We came close to having four district qualifiers, which says a lot about our program.
“(Rini and DeLuca) have known each other long enough to know each other’s game. I think that Laurel match was very important because they realized they could play well together.”
The match Hughes was speaking of was the only time that Rini, who spent the regular season as Avon’s first singles player, and DeLuca, who teamed up with Madison Nakon at first doubles, were a doubles team during the regular season.
Paired together specifically for the postseason, the duo did not disappoint, punching their district ticket with a 3-0 performance Oct. 3 that saw them play their first two matches indoors due to wet and unplayable outdoor courts before playing the district qualifying match outdoors.
The fourth-seeded doubles team at sectionals had a 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win over St. Joseph Academy’s Claire Violand and Brooke Kahl.
“It was a bit of an adjustment after playing singles all year,” said Rini, who was the only Avon girl to not win a WSC or LCAAA individual crown. “We only had one official match, but we beat Laurel, so that gave us some confidence going forward. It was different playing with a partner, but it was fun.”
Added DeLuca: “We knew coming in that only four teams make it to districts, so to see we had the fourth seed, that gave us a confidence boost. We really believed that we had a shot at this, and we were able to get the job done.”
Rini and DeLuca began their day with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Normandy’s Christine Santabarbara and Carolyn Oriti, and followed that with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Valley Forge’s Brittany Buettner and Abby Collins in the third round.
They came back Friday with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Patrick and Johnson in the semifinals, but rebounded with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Magnificat’s Josie Miller-Katie McCabe in the third-place match.
DeLuca said playing with a new partner was pretty easy.
“Madi is a just a really steady player,” she said. “It was actually pretty easy jumping in and playing with her.”
They were almost joined by Schwartz and Mentler.
Schwartz advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Elyria’s Angela Rodriguez on Wednesday; however, because that was her third match of the day, she has to come back Friday to meet the fourth-seeded Julia Dunbar of Westlake in the quarterfinals. A state rule limits all tennis players to just three competitive matches per day.
On Friday, Schwartz lost to Dunbar, a defending state qualifier in doubles, 6-2, 6-1.
“I’m really proud of myself for getting to this point,” said Schwartz, who won the second singles WSC and LCAAA titles this year. “Last year, I lost my first match here, so I was just really looking forward to my second time being here. It’s my senior year, so it’s my last time to be here as well. I’m just really excited.”
Mentler didn’t have to wait until Friday to compete in the quarterfinals, although she probably wished that she did.
Due to the staggered start with the four indoor courts and only four outdoor courts in use on Wednesday, the singles bracket that Mentler was in was the last one that got going.
Mentler, who didn’t play her first match until after 2 p.m. Wednesday, defeated Midview’s Danielle Smith, 6-0, 6-3, and followed with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Normandy’s Lexi Eging in the third round.
However, she only had 20 minutes to enjoy the victory before she had to return to the court to face defending state qualifier and No. 2 seed Emily Witt of Magnificat.
With all the other matches finished for the day and with darkness descending upon Oberlin College, Mentler jumped out to a 2-1 lead before Witt reeled off 11 consecutive games, coming away with a 6-2, 6-0 victory that had to be moved back indoors with Witt leading, 3-0, in the second set.
Patrick and Johnson, the second-seeded doubles team, became district qualifiers with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Amherst’s Elizabeth Sturges and Michelle Ondeka in the quarterfinals. They then defeated Rini and DeLuca in the semifinals before knocking off the top-seeded duo of Lindsey Golick and Melissa Djohan of Westlake, 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, in a marathon championship match.
“I think we’ve come really far together this season,” said Patrick, who hadn’t ever taken part in a sectional tournament until this year. “It feels really good to go 3-0 (Wednesday) and get a chance to represent Magnificat in the districts.
“It was good to see our names recognized in the bracket (as the second-seed), so that gave us some confidence going in. Plus, we always practice both inside and outside, so we were pretty used to (having to go back-and-forth).”
They began the day with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Katlynn Hale and Abby Hipwell of Padua, and followed with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Westlake’s Erin Tanker and Amanda Jaros to reach the quarterfinals.
For the second consecutive year, O’Malley, a sophomore, eliminated Hrivnak at sectionals. Hrivnak, still seeking her first-ever district berth, lost to her sectional nemesis, 6-2, 6-4, in the third round.
Last season, O’Malley upset Hrivnak in the quarterfinals, leaving her one match short of a district berth. This season, it was two matches shy.
“Honestly, it’s bittersweet because Erin played a really great match,” Avon Lake coach Christine Dieken said. “Lauren O’Malley just played exceptional (Wednesday). She played really smart and the score was even closer than it indicated. Unfortunately for us, Lauren came up with the big points, and that was the difference in the match.
“It’s disappointing that she’s not going on, but it’s hard to be disappointed because she played so well today and this season. She’s got one more year and she’s a really hard worker, so I expect her to be even better (as a senior).”
Hrivnak won the LCAAA Tournament title at first singles after two straight runner-up finishes. She and Dieken are hopeful the third time will be charm for her at sectionals.
Avon’s two other groups reached the third round, but were eliminated there by a pair of Westlake entities.
Nakon, playing singles, was beaten by the top-seed and eventual two-time sectional champion Lauren Golick of Westlake, 6-0, 6-0.
Meanwhile, Riley Monroe and Melissa Cirilo won their first sectional match before falling to eventual runners-up Djohan and Lindsey Golick, 6-1, 6-3.
For Avon Lake, singles players Alexis Krieg and Briana Makadia and the doubles team of Maya Wanner-Taylor Thomas were each first-round winners, but were all eliminated in the second round.
“Freshman Lexi Krieg, who is our normal No. 2 singles player, had a great day,” Dieken said. “She went out there and won her first round match fairly easily and then played Mags’ third singles player (Tess Moran) and gave her all that she could handle. That match could have gone either way.
“She really was a bright spot for our team, especially being a freshman and this being her first sectional. It’s normal to be nervous and not play your best, but she really went out there and left everything she had on the court.”
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