By Dan Gilles
It seems like an annual thing for the Westlake and Magnificat girls tennis programs to come into the Division I Northeast Sectional Tournament at Oberlin College and dominate.
Magnificat wound up with one more district qualifier than Westlake and the doubles champion, but the Demons wound up with the singles champion when the two-day sectional tournament concluded this past Friday at the Don Hunsinger Courts.
Wednesday’s portion, which began at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t end until a little after 7 p.m., saw both doubles teams and Emily Witt qualify for Magnificat and top-seeds Lauren Golick (singles) and the team of Lindsey Golick-Melissa Djohan (doubles) qualify for Westlake.
Two others – Magnificat sophomore Lauren O’Malley and Westlake junior Julia Dunbar – had to come back Friday to punch their respective district tickets due to state rules limiting their quarterfinal opponents to three competitive matches per day.
Golick, a senior with state championship aspirations, took the first step on the journey with a dominating 5-0 performance at sectionals, winning her second-straight sectional crown.
Golick didn’t drop a single game on Wednesday to punch her district ticket, and then defeated her teammate Dunbar, 6-1, 6-0, in the semifinals before beating the second-seeded Witt, 6-1, 6-1, in the finals.
“You always want to try to play your best to set the tone for the rest of the year,” said Golick, who has only one loss this season. “You have to set goals for yourself, and if you don’t meet those goals, you just have to work harder the next time. It’s a good start, but I know I have to get better.
“(Julia and I) have practiced together for I don’t know how many years, so we know each other pretty well. It was just a fun match to have.”
Her little sister Lindsey, a freshman, teamed up with fellow sectional newcomer Djohan, a junior, as the No. 1 seed. However, they lost a thrilling marathon match to Magnificat seniors Sarah Patrick and Veronica Johnson, 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, giving the second-seeded Patrick and Johnson the doubles championship.
“It’s cool that my sister is here and that I got the chance to play at least one season with her,”Lauren Golick said. “Like me, I know they’re happy to get Step 1 out of the way and I know they wanted to place as high as they could to get a good draw at districts.”
They had to get through two Magnificat doubles teams on Friday to win the title, but could only make it through one. They held off the third-seeded Josie Miller and Katie McCabe, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), in the semifinals.
“It’s exciting because you try your best and you try to improve as the season goes on,” said Lindsey Golick. “To make it to districts as a freshman is really cool, and I’m glad I could do it with Melissa.”
Added Djohan: “Since I only have one more year after this, it means a lot because I just wanted to do my best.”
Patrick and Johnson will be competing in their first district tournament this weekend at Oberlin College thanks to going 3-0 last Wednesday in their first sectional experience of their careers.
Patrick and Johnson, the second-seeded doubles team, became district qualifiers with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Amherst’s Elizabeth Sturges and Michelle Ondeka in the quarterfinals. They came back Friday to defeat the fourth-seeded Annie DeLuca and Madisyn Rini, 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinals before knocking off Westlake.
“I think we’ve come really far together this season,”Patrick said. “It feels really good to go 3-0 (Wednesday) and get a chance to represent Magnificat in the districts.
“It was good to see our names recognized in the bracket (as the second-seed), so that gave us some confidence going in. Plus, we always practice both inside and outside, so we were pretty used to (having to go back-and-forth).”
Johnson was also thrilled to be heading to districts.
“It feels like everything we’ve been through – all the hard work – is paying off,” she said. “To have both of our doubles teams going to districts means a lot, too.”
Dunbar, the fourth-seeded singles player, picked up two dominating victories on Wednesday over Avon Lake’s Briana Makadia and Midview’s Rachel Pickering. She came back Friday with a 6-2, 6-1 district qualifying win over Avon’s Abby Schwartz, then lost to Golick and the unseeded O’Malley, 6-2, 6-4, to finish fourth.
“I just like being out on the court and playing, no matter when or where it is,” Dunbar said. “It is a little hard on the studies this time of year, but it’s OK.
“After making it in doubles last year, I really hope I can make state as a singles player this year. Now, I kind of feel like I’m at the halfway point of where I need to be.”
Westlake coach Ralph Dunbar was pleased with his girls’performances.
“I knew Lauren was going to play well, especially with it being her last year here,” he said. “She has certain goals and she wants to achieve those. And I’m really happy that her ‘little sister’ is here with her and is going to districts as well.
“For Melissa, it’s special because she’s worked her heart out the last couple of years. Julia came in with the great accomplishment of making it to state in doubles last year and she wanted to take her hand at singles this year. That was her choice, and I think it was a good choice.”
Dunbar didn’t do much coaching for the semifinal clash between his daughter and Golick.
“I’ve had that happen a couple of other times in the past years, and I just let them play,” he said. “There’s no coaching that goes on. Chris Johnson and I were talking about the potential of an All-Westlake and an All-Mags semifinal. It’s unfortunate that way, but it happens. And at least you know you’ll have someone in the finals.”
Witt, a defending state qualifier, punched her ticket to districts in the final match of the long Wednesday, a match that began outdoors but was moved indoors with her leading Avon’s Halle Mentler, 3-0, in the second game.
Despite the brief interruption, and with no other matches being contested, Witt defeated Mentler, 6-2, 6-0 to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“You have to try to keep loose because there’s been a lot sitting around and waiting,” said Witt, who went 3-0 Wednesday with victories over Amherst’s Macy Szucs (6-0, 6-0), Westlake’s Marissa Li (6-1, 6-0) and Mentler. “You have to start somewhere, so I’m trying to play each point at the time and move on, hopefully, to state.
“I had never played (Mentler), so I just wanted to play my game, stay consistent but also be aggressive and take control of the point.”
Mentler only had 20 minutes to enjoy her 6-0, 6-0 third-round win over Normandy’s Lexi Eming before she had to go back out on the court to face Witt at 6 p.m. with a district berth on the line. She was leading, 2-1, before Witt won 11 straight games to close out the win.
Witt was looking forward to her all-Mags semifinal showdown with O’Malley, which she won, 6-3, 6-1.
“She’s a friend and a teammate,” she said. “I figured we’d go out there and play good tennis, win or lose. We hit at practice every day, and she’s a good player, too.”
O’Malley, for the second-straight year, upset Avon Lake’s Erin Hrivnak to stay alive. Last season, she eliminated Hrivnak in the district-qualifying match.
On Wednesday, O’Malley upset the third-seeded Hrivnak, 6-2, 6-4, in the third round.
“Honestly, it’s bittersweet because Erin played a really great match,” Avon Lake coach Christine Dieken said. “Lauren O’Malley just played exceptional today. She played really smart and the score was even closer than it indicated. Unfortunately for us, Lauren came up with the big points, and that was the difference in the match.”
She came back Friday with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over North Olmsted senior Amanda Minch to punch her district ticket for the second straight year.
“I actually expected (Hrivnak) to beat me,” O’Malley said. “At the very least, I expected it would be a lot closer than last time. I think (winning the first one 6-2) was very important because it got her to think less confidently.
“The only problem with (waiting until Friday) was missing another day of school, but oh well. I just wanted to win and keep playing.”
Added Johnson: “She has no nerves. It doesn’t matter what situation it is, she’s never nervous. I can expect her to play the same consistent game every single match. There’s never a down match with her, so I knew she’d be good enough make another run at districts.”
Minch survived two long matches on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals. She upset Amherst’s Natalie Keron, 7-6 (7-6), 6-1, in the second round, then rallied to eliminate St. Joseph Academy’s Missy Drapac, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, to stay alive for Friday.
“I feel good that I won them both, but it was a long day (Wednesday),” Minch said. “I started giving up (against Drapac), but when I started winning, I started gaining hope back and regained my focus.”
Miller and McCabe also made their long-awaited sectional debuts memorable, going 3-0 on Wednesday with three dominating performances. The only game they lost was in their district qualifying 6-0, 6-1 win over Normandy’s Jessica Lee-Darija Kulyk.
However, they couldn’t keep the winning going on Friday. Following the marathon loss to Westlake, they dropped a 6-0, 6-3 third-place match to Avon’s Rini and DeLuca.
“We felt, coming in, our season was going to hinge on how well our doubles teams could jell together,” Coach Johnson said. “I think both teams have done a tremendous job. I have three other players I could have easily used (this week) that could have also qualified, but the doubles have really come together with their strategies (and) their communicating.
“Sarah Patrick played varsity last year but she did not play at sectionals because I had seniors I wanted to give the chance to. It’s not easy to advance their first time out, and, as seniors, they are the ones we count on as our leaders. It was great to see all four make it out.”
Coach Johnson was thrilled for his district qualifiers.
“Especially over these last two weeks, everyone on this team has really stepped up their game to a different level,” he said. “Judging by our draws and how we’ve been playing, I was pretty confident that we’d get as many girls as we did through.
“We were hoping for as high a finish as possible, because the higher you finish (at sectionals), the better your seeding will be at districts and the easier it will be to give yourself the best chance at getting to state.”
The Blue Streaks came one match away from sending their entire team to districts. However, Tess Moran ran into Lauren Golick in Wednesday’s quarterfinals and lost, 6-0, 6-0.