This year at the Boston Marathon, Ethiopian Atsede Baysa won in a time of 2:29.19.
On Thursday, Sept. 22 at West Holmes High School, West Holmes’ Erin Stitzlein and Wooster’s Izzy Rico nearly duplicated that time, only they had just played two sets in what amounted to a marathon on the tennis courts.
The two talented players highlighted what would eventually become a 3-2 West Holmes win, one that was full of drama as the two teams vied for the right to snag third place in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
“These are two very evenly matched teams, and on any given day, it is going to be a different result,” said Wooster head coach Stan Burris. “West Holmes has a really talented kid at second singles (Sabryn Cutlip), and we new that was going to be a tough match. She was really good today.”
But the talk around the courts on this night was at first singles, where West Holmes the senior Stitzlein and Rico, a junior, waged an epic marathon that looked destined to go into the dark of night.
The two stayed on the baseline and volleyed balls back-and-forth all night, resulting in plenty of lengthy points. What was more, was that it quickly became evident that the first singles match would determine both the winner and the team that would claim third place in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
“It all comes down to the number one players, and that is how it should be in a good match,” said West Holmes coach Jason Otto.
Rico took care of Stitzlein 6-2 in the first set, and held a 4-3 advantage in set two. The athletic Rico simply kept the ball in play, and kept getting to everything Stitzlein hit. She rarely left the baseline, and Stitzlein also played a lot of balls at the baseline, leading to some rather lengthy points.
“In a match like this, it is about who can hang in there and maintain their focus,” said Burris. ‘The thing with Izzy is that she can get to just about everything because she is super-quick and athletic. Both kids are out there trying to think their way through the match and they are battling.”
Many of the volleys between the two were in the 30 to 40 stroke range, with one point challenging close to 100 hits before Rico ended up a winner. That meant a marathon match, and Rico had an opportunity to put it away in the second, but Stitzlein rallied and won game two 6-4, setting up what appeared to be a four-hour match, considering the first two sets took a little more than 2-1/2 hours to complete.
But just like that, Rico changed her philosophy and began attacking the net with every volley. Stitzlein took advantage, and hit plenty of winners and lobs past and over the hard-charging Rico, and disposed of her 6-0 in a 20-minute set that defied what had transpired up to that point. It was as though thunder had rolled through the valley for 2-1/2 hours, and then lightning struck and the storm was over.
“It was weird,” said Stitzlein. “She started coming to the net on every single shot.”
Maybe the change in style for Rico was because had the two kept playing at the pace they had fashioned through the first two sets, darkness would have set in.
“Stan said that was what they felt gave them the best chance to win,” said Otto.
Regardless of reasons, the Stitzlein win gave West Holmes a 3-2 win, inching them by Wooster and into third place in the OCC behind state powers Lexington and Ashland.
At third singles, Kate Rodhe was long done before Stitzlein and Rico put the wraps on their marathon. Rodhe took control early in her match with Glara Lee, and although Lee played her tough down the stretch, Rodhe ended up with a 6-2, 6-4 win.
At first doubles, Wooster came away the victor as Hannah Morgan and Emma Strong churned out a 6-4, 6-02 win over Samara Gallion and Dorita Phillips. Second doubles also wen the Generals’ way, as Leah Sim and Esther Hart dealt Sarah Tennefoss and Ally Taylor a decisive 6-1, 6-1 loss.
“We knew coming in that their two doubles teams were really strong,” said Otto. “We felt it would come down to us needing to take all three singles matches if we wanted to get out of here with a win.”
“”Our doubles teams have had a good year,” said Burris. “They are four seniors who have played very aggressively and confidently this year. They are playing hard as they wrap up their careers.”
Second singles did prove to be interesting, and quite pivotal. Last year Lady Knight Sabryn Cutlip and Wooster’s Julia Tefts battled in two tough sets, with Tefts winning the regular season tilt 6-4, 6-4, and Cutlip nipping Tefts in an 11-9 tie-breaker in the OCC tournament.
Both coaches expected that match to be huge, but Cutlip went to work early, and scored a relatively easy 6-2, 6-1 win.
“I really thought this match would come down to the number two singles,” said Otto. “They played two really competitive matches last year, and we kind of expected the same thing. To see Sabryn win that big was a real surprise.”
These two competitive teams will now have an opportunity to go at it again in the OCC conference tournament, where it is almost a given they will see plenty of each other again.