Kate Rodhe and Erin Stitzlein have been singles players all season.
However, they certainly don’t seem to mind sharing some court time.
The two standout Lady Knights seniors united to become the top seed at the Dover Div. II tennis sectional Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 3-4 at Dover Park, and played up to the lofty status by capturing the sectional crown in a 6-2, 7-5 win over Dover’s number one team of McKenna Rose and Hailey Incarnato.
After hammering their way into the finals with an easy win over Dover’s number two team of Megan Smith and Regan Keating in the semifinals, West Holmes had to grind out a win against a solid team that took them to the brink.
After what appeared to be a blowout 6-2 win in set one, Dover began using their steady play that focuses on forcing opponents to make mistakes. Incarnato in particular played extremely well on the baseline.
However, trailing 5-4 in the second, Rodhe and Stitzlein rallied to win it in two.
“I think I messed up a couple points and let it get to my head,” said Rodhe. “After a while, I just told myself to play every point and not worry about the last one.”
Trailing 5-4 in the second set, the West Holmes duo quickly righted the ship. A lengthy rally at 5-4 Dover, with Rodhe and Incarnato on the baseline trading some exquisite shots, became a key. Eventually a Rodhe slam down the near line became a point for West Holmes, and led to the tying score at 5-all.
West Holmes then won again to make it 6-5, and closed out with Rodhe serving for the victory.
The win marks the second district appearance for both Rodhe and Stitzlein. Last year, Rodhe teamed up with Natalie Molnar to make it to the state tournament in doubles, while Stitzlein and partner Cassidy Mohler made it all the way to the state play-in game before falling.
That experience should pay off with both players having been to districts and having experienced success there.
“I think being in that situation before will help, and maybe my nerves won’t be as bad, but it is different every time, so we’ll just see what happens.”
Stitzlein said that doubling up with her classmate was something they have talked about a lot, and both of them have had plenty of experience playing doubles in their careers despite having played singles most of the season.
“We are best friends off the court, so we try to do the same thing on the court,” said Stitzlein. “She definitely takes over with the forehand and I am better with the backhand, so we fit pretty well that way. We are both pretty solid on the baseline, so we gel together pretty well.”
Stitzlein said it is difficult to become accustomed to playing at the net having played singles a great portion of the year, and the one thing she said they need to work on over the next number of days before districts is their aggressiveness at the net.
“We are both fairly cautious players at the net, when really, we know we need to be aggressive and go for it up there,” said Stitzlein. “That is something we have to get better at.”
Rose and Incarnato had to wade past another dangerous Lady Knights duo in Sabryn Cutlip and Samara Gallion.
That West Holmes number two doubles team pounded their way to the semifinals with great ease before facing Dover’s number one team.
Once there, they gave Dover everything it could handle, fighting to the very end before falling 6-3, 6-4, almost making it an all-West Holmes final.
“Those two (Rose and Incarnato) have very good ground strokes, and you can’t make mistakes against them,” said West Holmes coach Jason Otto. “That took a toll in the semifinals. But Samara and Sabryn really battled. In the finals, I thought we got a little sloppy at times, but we ended up coming back and playing the way we had to play to get a win. But overall, it was a pretty successful tournament for us.”
That success wasn’t just in the doubles play. In singles action, Sarah Tennefoss and Ally Taylor each played their way into the third round, showing they could play the singles game well after playing doubles all season.
“I am really proud of the way they played,” said Otto of his singles players. “Especially Ally, with this being the first year she has ever played.”
Otto said that based on the seeding, and the teams expected to come out of the other sectionals, it should be very similar to what they faced at districts last year.
That means the door is open to a return trip to state again.
“Unless some teams pops up out of nowhere, we should be looking at the same team that Natalie and Kate beat to get to state last year, and the team that beat Erin and Cassidy, so it should be exciting,” said Otto.
But before they get there to compete, the West Holmes duo will relish in the aftermath of a sectional title, one they have been waiting for all season long.