The race for first place in the girls Ohio Cardinal Conference tennis was never in question.
The race for second was where all of the drama played out.
With powerful Lexington again dominating the OCC girls tennis scene this fall, the drama for the year came down to the final few matches of the conference tournament in Ashland Saturday, Sept. 26.
In the past number of years, Ashland has had a stranglehold on the runner-up spot in the OCC, but this year, West Holmes had zipped past the Arrows into second place coming into the OCC tournament, holding the narrowest of margins, a one-point spread over Ashland.
So, the scenario played out like this: Everyone was giving the nod to Lexington to win all five titles. The big push was for both West Holmes and Ashland to beat each other in the semifinals to reach the finals. That would mean additional points for whichever team could secure the most runner-up spots.
While both second and third singles players Erin Stitzlein and Sabryn Cutlip earned the coveted runner-up spots for West Holmes, first singles player Natalie Molnar and the West Holmes first doubles team of Kate Rodhe and Cassidy Mohler settled for third place, while the second doubles team of Maty Macaulay and Samara Gallion in fourth place.
With Ashland taking three runner-up spots, the Arrows were able to narrowly hang on to second-place by a total team score of 47-45.5. Wooster battled valiantly as well, eventually placing fourth with 31.5 points, with every team looking up at champion Lexington’s 69 points.
“We definitely needed to beat Ashland in one of the two doubles matches, and they got us on both of them,” said West Holmes coach Jason Otto. “That pretty much sealed it for us.”
While they didn’t quite snag the second spot in the OCC, it was a heck of a regular season for the Lady Knights, who went 15-3 in duel play, and won their own invitational.
Plus, there was plenty of drama to play out at the OCC tournament, which began with Cutlip in a must-win situation in her semifinal match with Wooster’s Julia Tefs.
With the balance of the overall chase for second place still hanging in the balance, the two number three singles players took the court and played a three set marathon match. Cutlip won the first set 6-3, with Tefs returning the favor by that same score to set up a super-tiebreaker for the third and deciding set.
The two matched lengthy bouts of play from the baseline, and in the race to be the first to 10 points and win by two, Cutlip had three set-chances, but Tefs fought her off to tie the score at 9-9. It then went to 10-10, before Cutlip eventually eked out a 12-10 victory.
Both players were exhausted following the match, considering it was a bright, sun-drenched day, but each wanted to win badly. The two had squared off just over one week earlier, where Tefs had dealt Cutlip her only first loss in the OCC.
Cutlip felt she had to play for pride as well as her team.
“I felt I was the better player, and it made me mad that she beat me earlier,” said Cutlip. “I really wanted to win this time around, for both myself and for my team. It feels great to finally get a win after that long of a match.
It was really nerve-racking, and it was nice to finally get that last point.”
Tefs too was spent, and she knew she had given everything she had in the battle, which took more than two hours to complete.
“I knew it was going to be close, based on the way we had played our match earlier,” said Tefs. “All you can do in a match like that is go point by point and keep playing as hard as you can. I really felt like it took a lot more physically than it did mentally out of me, even though it was such a close fought match.”
Cutlip would go on to take the runner-up spot, losing to Lex’s Katie Volz 6-0, 6-3 in the finals. The marathon match also took a toll on Tefs, who would fall to fourth after losing to Ashland in the consolation match.
Stitzlein would topple Ashland’s Kaelin Frazee in a thriller, winning the semifinal by a score of 4-6, 7-5, 10-6 in a match that was every bit as scintillating as Cutlip and Tefs. Stitzlein would go on to lose to Lex’s Jordyn Traxler in the finals 6-2, 6-1.
Molnar would fall to Ashland’s Jenna McBride in the semifinal 6-2, 6-4, but rebounded to take third by getting the better of Wooster sophomore Izzy Rico.
Just like all the the West Holmes competitors, the first doubles team of Mohler and Rodhe won their first match to set up a showdown with Ashland. They fell in a close 6-4, 6-4 match, but rebounded to take down Wooster’s Hannah Morgan and Emma Strong for third place.
After winning their first, Macaulay and Gallion faced Ashland’s Shannon Gallener and Emma Durrell, and fell 6-2, 6-2. They were then defeated 8-5 in the consolation round by Wooster’s Leah Sim and Esther Hart.