McKenna Rose and Hailey Incarnato may have had zero experience in playing doubles this year, but viewers of the Div. II sectional tennis tournament at Dover Park Oct. 3-4 would never have guessed that by their play.
The two singles players teamed up and their communication and inspired play led them all the way to the finals, a feat that qualified them for districts.
The two Tornadoes had not played any doubles before teaming up for the tournament run they hoped would eventually lead them to districts.
Rose had played at first singles all season, while Incarnato had presented a formidable third single player.
In that sense, they were very much like their finals opponent West Holmes, a team that boasted number one singles player Erin Stitzlein and number three singles force Kate Rodhe, who much like Incarnato had chewed up the competition all season at third singles.
And just like West Holmes, Dover had a fantastic season as a team, with all kinds of depth and leadership at hand.
Rose, the senior statesman on the team, said she likes the idea of playing doubles because it does tend to open up the court, with the alleys now coming into play. With both of Dover’s players having nice agility and athleticism to chase down balls all over the court, that plays into their hands.
The difficulty is trying to figure out the nuances of doubles play when they hadn’t done it all season.
“It is really hard for the net player to figure things out, because we just aren’t used to having that player being up there,” said Rose. “But other than that, it just comes down to communicating with each other.”
That was something they did on every shot, as the two were in constant communication throughout the tournament.
After easily handling their early foes, they ran into a tough customer in the semifinals, which was the district play-in game, when they faced a solid West Holmes number two tandem of Samara Gallion and Sabryn Cutlip.
There was nothing easy about that win, with Sabryn dominating from the number two slot this season for West Holmes, while Gallion hits the ball as hard as any player they faced.
However, their consistent play forced West Holmes into some errors, and they took advantage for a 6-3, 6-4 win to advance to the finals, but more importantly, to districts.
That left only the finals against the top-seeded West Holmes team of Stitzlein and Rodhe, a match that would determine which team got the top seed and which took the number two seed into district play.
After getting kicked around in game one 6-2, the Dover duo never lost their focus, and fought back. The led 1-0, dropped two games then won the next two to forge a 3-2 lead. They held serve and took a 5-4 edge, needing one more win to force a thirds set.
That never materialized, as Rodhe and Stitzlein began to get more aggressive, and West Holmes was able to grab the title and the top seed at districts with a 7-5 win.
That didn’t stop Rose and Incarnato from enjoying their achievement in reaching their goal of qualifying for districts.
Taking the leap from singles into the world of doubles paid off for them.
“We want to go as far as we can, and the teamwork is so important, and we believe we do that well, and we believe in each other and encourage each other,” said Incarnato.
They won’t be traveling to districts alone. Their teammate, Adele Pruni, battled her way to the finals and finished second to advance as well.
Pruni had played second singles all season and opted to remain in singles play for the tournament. She crushed her early competition without giving up a game, then had to square off with her best friend Sarah Dreher of Strasburg in the semifinals.
In an evenly matched contest that has seen both players win their fair share over the years, the practice partners edge went to Piuni 6-2, 6-1, which qualified her for districts, but left her in the unenviable position of facing Carrollton superstar Taylor Fair in the finals. Fair did not give up a game the entire tournament, and that went for Pruni too, as Fair took aim and over powered Pruni 6-0, 6-0. That didn’t stop Pruni from rejoicing in the accomplishment of moving on.
“It is something I’ve thought a lot about all year,” said Pruni of making it to district play. “I’ll just go do my best and what happens, happens.”