West Holmes went into the 2015 Div. II Sectional tennis tournament having stacked their doubles teams in hopes of making it a third straight year in which it has sent two doubles teams to districts.
After a lengthy wait following a morning rain, Knights’ coach Jason Otto’s team did that and got a whole lot more accomplished.
Top-seeded team of Natalie Molnar and Kate Rodhe made their way into the finals, and they were joined by teammates Cassidy Mohler and Erin Stitzlein, who had to knock off the tournament’s number two seed in Dover along the way to qualifying for districts.
And while Otto stacked the Lady Knights top players in the doubles bracket, the singles players held their own in throwing up some pretty impressive efforts too.
Sabryn Cutlip, who has played third singles all season for West Holmes, just missed a district berth, losing to second-seed McKenna Rose of Dover in the district play-in match, Maty Macaulay, who has played second double all season, churned out not one but two wins to reach the quarterfinals before falling to top-seeded Taylor Fair of Carrollton, and Elsie Knebusch, who was in and out of the starting doubles line-up this season for the Lady Knights also won her first match, sending everyone home with at least one win for West Holmes.
For Molnar and Rodhe, the waiting was the hardest part, as Tom Petty put it in song.
The Lady Knights arrived at 8 a.m. expecting to get things started early. However, rainfall made the courts unplayable, and it took plenty of work to get them in working condition.
Tournament director Scott Ebert said of the monumental team effort in getting the courts in playing condition, “All in all, a bad situation turned out pretty good. I can’t thank the city workers enough. We may have to send the mayor of Dover a thank you for allowing the park district guys to help us out. They dropped everything they were doing and dove right in. We had several blowers and squeegees at work getting the courts dry.”
Once they were dry, the rains moved out and tennis got underway, but the WHHS second seed Molnar/Rodhe team had to sit and wait. And wait. And wait. For eight hours they sat and watched others play, and when they finally did get a shot at taking their swings after receiving an opening round bye, they played a little rusty, but eventually earned a 6-4, 6-0 win over Dover’s Reagan Keating and Isabella Weaver. They then cruised to victory in the semifinals to qualify for districts.
“We were pretty antsy to play, and we came out a little rusty after the long wait,” said Molnar, who is making her third straight trip to districts, a feat Otto said is not all too common for high school players.
The only question would be, who would be their opponent.
The answer would be their teammates, who blew past Carrolton 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals. However, that wasn’t the big match. That came in the quarterfinals, where they had to stare down number two-seed Dover’s Rachel Immel and Meghan May, a team which had given West Holmes a loss earlier in the year.
West Holmes used a huge start to capture a 6-3, 6-4 win to pull the upset.
“This feels very good, especially since Kate and I lost to them in the regular season,” said Mohler. “Ever since we saw the bracket we were looking forward to this game, and we wanted to bring a lot of intensity into the match. We knew we needed to come out strong, and we built a lot of momentum from that early set that carried over into the second one.
In the second, the two teams were locked at 4-4 before West Holmes took the final two games for the victory.
There was no drop-off in intensity as they mauled Carrollton to set up a date on Wednesday, Sept. 30 against their teammates to determine the seeding for districts.
In singles play, Cutlip also got a bit of revenge, taking out Dover’s Megan Smith, who gave Cutlip the first loss of only three she had all season.
Cutlip played her game, keeping everything in play and forcing her opponent to make mistakes, in carving out a 6-3, 6-2 win.
“I wanted that one bad,” said Cutlip, who felt she had given away their match earlier this year.
Cutlip fought valiantly against Rose in the finals, losing the first set 6-2 before battling back and taking the second set 6-3. She ran out of gas, however, as Rose went to work and produced a 6-0 final set win to make districts.
“She’s had a really solid year, and has been tough all season long, but she has played extremely well here today,” said Dover coach Carl Conrad.
Rose’s teammate Hailey Incarnato also played very well, winning three matches in making it to the semifinals, where she eventually fell to the buzz saw known as Fair.
Knebusch stepped into her final career tournament having not played in a number of the Lady Knights regular season tilts, but did her team proud by winning her first set by a convincing 7-6, 7-5 score over a tough opponent in Cami Post of East Liverpool.
I was impressed,” said Otto of Knebusch’s effort. “That kid is a solid player and Elise did a great job in pulling off a win.”
Knebusch would eventually fall to Cambridge’s number one singles player Olivia Lamphear, but battled hard in losing 6-4, 6-3.
For Macaulay, the move from second doubles into the realm of singles was fairly new, and she had no expectations coming into the day.
“I really didn’t expect any wins, so to have two is awesome,” said Macaulay as she fought back the tears of playing in her final match. “I just wanted to come here and play my best.”
Both Dover and West Holmes completed huge years this season. Dover was 18-3, a record-setting campaign for Conrad’s team. West Holmes was 15-3, and nearly pulled off an upset, just getting nipped by powerful Ashland for second in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
Macaulay said going out like this is exactly what she had dreamed of for her swan song season.
“I’ve been so emotional this whole season,” said Macaulay. “This has meant so much to me, and it has been an awesome senior year. To go out with such an awesome season is a great feeling.”
Macaulay, like Incarnato, would fall to Fair 6-0, 6-0. In fact, Fair dropped just one game all tournament, that to New Philadelphia’s Sydney Banks in the second round.
That set up a Fair versus Rose finale for seeding at the district level, their match also taking place Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Dover Park.