PANTHERS FINISH FIFTH AT NLCS
StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Saturday, May 11, 2019
PLYMOUTH — Things went as scripted for NorthWood tennis — more or less — at the Northern Lakes Conference Championships.
When the final tallies were added up after the last round of NLC tourney play at Plymouth Friday night, the Lady Panthers had finished third, echoing their 5-2 finish in the round robin. The lineup that got them there looked a little different than the the one that entered the tournament, however.
After usual No. 3 Gretchen Adams rolled her ankle in the first set of her semifinal with Goshen’s Madi Rittenhouse Thursday night, ultimately dropping that semifinal, 6-4, 6-0, head coach Tiffiny Schwartz opted to replace her in Friday’s third-place consolation match with Northridge’s Taylin Cress. Despite some early jitters, Abi Vorhis stepped in nicely, handing Cress a 6-1, 7-5 loss to help cement Wood’s 30-point tally and third-place result.
“Some of the places where we were seeded a little higher, we maybe didn’t place there in the tournament, but I still feel like we played really well. Definitely at 3 singles, that hurt to have Gretchen roll her ankle in the second game of the first set. She finished the match, but she wasn’t moving, she wasn’t doing what she would normally do. I was glad that she stayed with it and finished, but we just knew that she couldn’t play today,” explained Schwartz.
“(Vorhis) played wonderful. It was very nice for her to be able to come in and have a varsity experience match like that. She played great at 1 singles JV all year long for us, so I knew the option playing singles going in there was going to be good. She played Gretchen tough when they played challenge matches so I wasn’t worried about it, but she was nervous. And that first set went by in a heartbeat. Winning 6-1 I was like ‘Good for you!’ It was fun to watch.”
Plymouth took the tournament title with 51 points to edge out defending champion Concord’s score of 50, forcing a tie for the overall NLC title after the Minutemen cruised to a 7-0 round robin finish handing the Pilgrims their only loss in conference dual meet play. The finish to Friday’s tourney was a dramatic one, as Plymouth No. 3 freshman Aubrey Vervynckt edged out Goshen’s Rittenhouse for a 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 victory that gave the Pilgrims one point more than Concord after each team reached championship matches at four positions.
NorthWood had one player reach the finals in No. 1 Reegan Miller, and she faced a familiar opponent in the title match in Concord’s Regan Landis. Landis’ wall play seemed to frustrate Miller at times in their second set, and she ultimately claimed a 6-3, 6-1 win over Miller, but Schwartz thought there was another element at play, too.
“I know it’s tough for her to play Regan. Regan and her are very good friends. In fact, they do a lot of USTA tournaments, and they play doubles together so to play each other then in a match is a little difficult sometimes,” explained the NorthWood skipper. “I think sometimes it’s hard to kind of put that out of your mind. We always try to say ‘Ok, don’t look at it like that’s who’s over there. Think that it’s somebody else so that you don’t think that way.’ But Regan is very, very solid. She just puts the ball back in play all the time. She doesn’t do anything fancy. She doesn’t try to play offense. She mainly plays defense so I think Reegan got a little impatient several times, and we just made those few mistakes, and that’s what Reagan was looking for. If you can keep the ball in play and you make her make a mistake, that’s when you can win the point, but it’s going to take you 30, 40, 50 balls in one point.”
Miller was still voted At-Large All-NLC for her runner-up efforts, and NorthWood No. 2 Alex Jesse was voted All-NLC Honorable Mention after collecting a third-place finish at her position, where she put away Northridge’s Brynne Gayler, 7-5, 6-0 Friday night. Wood’s 2 doubles team of Caroline Mullett and Kate Stillson finished fourth at their position with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Warsaw’s Amy Herendeen and Maddie Ray Friday.
The Lady Tigers wound up fifth at the tournament and finished in a tie with Ridge for fourth in the final conference standings following a 4-3, fourth-place result in round robin play. Although Herendeen and Ray won their console, they were actually seeded for a top finish at the meet before a tough, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Plymouth’s Syndi Weir and Olive Stanton in Thursday’s semis.
“I was watching one of the other courts, and I look back there and they were playing,” recalled Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “You can take a 10-minute break, and I would’ve definitely had them take that 10-minute break because you kind of block the momentum from the other team that they got. But they went ahead and did it. Lesson learned. They were sorry they did it. They even told me before I had a chance to tell them. So they’re solid. I mean, they are truly a solid 2 doubles team. So I was happy with the way they played.”
Warsaw collected another seven points at 1 doubs, where Rachel Yeager and Raegan Merchant finished fourth following a love-love loss to Goshen’s Kathryn Detweiler and Brooke Grewe Friday. Rachel Boyle placed seventh with a 6-0, 6-0 whitewash of Elkhart Memorial’s Elizabeth Weimer, meanwhile, while Taylor Schoaf lost her fifth-place consolation match with Wawasee’s Peyton Rookstool retiring in the second set after rolling her ankle on a rogue tennis ball midway through their first set. Alyssa Zellers won her fifth-place match with Goshen’s Lucy Kramer, 6-0, 6-2, finishing out her tourney with back-to-back wins following a loss to Concord’s Landis in the opener Wednesday night.
“Alyssa, she played incredibly well. That first match was against the top seed, and she probably played her harder than anybody else in this tournament. Then she came back and won the next two matches, so I’m thrilled with the way she played,” Orban said.
Wawasee’s best finish came from Rookstool and her fifth-place result as she bounced back from a tournament-opening loss to Northridge’s Gayler with wins over Memorial’s Callan Kubiak and Schoaf.
“She just has really good, low shots, and it’s hard to predict where they’re going to go with her form, so it really throws off her opponents. When she’s hitting those shots and getting them in, they’re very difficult to read, and they’re difficult to get back,” said Lady Warriors coach Lynnette Jackson of her No. 2.
Wawasee scored two points apiece at the 3 singles and both doubles positions on its way to a seventh-place finish both in the tourney and the overall NLC standings. Jackson was particularly heartened by the play of her doubles tandems as Kaitlin Graber and Molly Jones salvaged a seventh-place finish at 1 doubs with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Wood’s Graber and Riley Mikel and Lauren Mikel Friday, and Tate Cowan and Abby Morehead fell, 6-2, 6-1 to Ridge’s Amaya Guevara and Kylee Bontrager in Friday’s fifth-place match at 2 doubs.
The revamped doubles play is a good sign for Wawasee as it heads into Warsaw Sectional play next week as the Warriors lost just one singles point in a narrow 3-2 defeat at the hands of the defending-champion Tigers in regular-season play last last month.
“Our doubles going into sectional, I do feel really good about their improvement. I think that they will take some of the weight off of the singles players, too — that helps to have the doubles teams that can step in and snag those wins too,” said Jackson. “And the singles, I think will come through as well. They’re playing well at 2 and 3, and I think Kendra (Doerr) is going to rebound and come back strong next week. I feel good about our chances still going into sectional.”