By Dan Gilles
It took awhile before the Southwestern Conference girls tennis tournament was scheduled for last Thursday at Avon Lake High School and neighboring Bleser Park (doubles).
The tournament, originally scheduled for Sept. 14 at Medina High School, was rescheduled for two different Saturdays (Sept. 21 and Sept. 27) at Medina, but, either due to court availability or player availability, neither of those scenarios worked.
However, Westlake showed that it didn’t matter when or where the tournament was held – it was going to dominate regardless.
Building off of a 7-0 regular season against their SWC foes, the Demons won individual titles in all five brackets, en route to a maximum 35 points and their sixth-straight outright SWC crown.
“I believe in karma and stuff like that,” Westlake coach Ralph Dunbar said. “I didn’t watch my second or first doubles most of the day, and they had been playing so well that I didn’t even want to watch them in the finals today because you never know how quickly things can turn.
“I told the girls that, from where we started at the beginning (of the) season, which was a little rocky with questions as to who was playing at which positions and how they were playing at those positions, to do what they did today was tremendous. This is my 18th year of coaching at Westlake and we have a winning tradition, and it’s fun to continue that. This also gives the girls the memories they deserve later on and will continue to build their momentum in their own tennis programs as well.”
Avon Lake, which lost 4-1 to Brecksville during the regular season, avenged that defeat by edging the Bees in last Thursday’s tournament, 25-24, to claim second place.
“We avenged a regular season loss to Brecksville by toughing it out and beating them in several different brackets today,” Avon Lake coach Christine Dieken said. “Most importantly, my girls, in all five spots, went out in every match and knew that every match counted, and every girl contributed to this second-place finish. It feels great.
“That’s why this is so special, to finish ahead of them at this tournament. More importantly, we haven’t finished ahead of Brecksville in quite a few years – the last time we finished ahead of them, I may have been playing on this team. It’s been awhile, so for my girls to do this, it’s very special.”
The Demons were led by senior captain Julia Dunbar, who won her fourth-straight SWC crown at her fourth-different position. After winning as a freshman at first doubles, a sophomore at third singles and a junior at second singles, Dunbar pulled off the clean sweep and the cycle by defeating Avon Lake’s Erin Hrivnak, 6-2, 6-0, for the first singles championship.
“On a personal note, it was fun to see my daughter do as well as she did today,” Ralph Dunbar said. “To do as well as she did today, she played some outstanding tennis. It’s her tennis game; it’s not anybody else’s. And you could see the happiness in her eyes, too.
“That’s pretty unique (to do it at four different spots). To be able to handle that pressure as the years build and finishing her senior year as the first singles player says a lot. And I know Erin is a very tenacious and great player, and I give her kudos for her game. Julia was just pretty darn focused today.”
Dunbar went 2-0. After a first-round bye, she defeated Brecksville’s Grace Wang, 6-0, 6-1, in the semifinals to reach the finals.
Last month, Hrivnak – a four-time SWC first singles runner-up – gave Dunbar all she could handle in a regular season match at Avon Lake, eventually falling 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. However, battling a pulled quad muscle, Hrivnak gamely hung with Dunbar for the start of the first set, trailing 3-2, before Dunbar reeled off nine straight wins to put the title away.
“Since my freshman year, I won it every single year at three other positions, and I really wanted to win that first singles title my senior year,” Julia Dunbar said. “It was great to accomplish. I feel like they’re all equally important because it shows how each year I kept stepping up my game. For my senior year to finish it off like this, it’s a great accomplishment.
“I remembered that last match, so I really wanted to make this one a decisive win. I think this time I brought the confidence in myself from the start. I realized I do have the game, so I might as well use it.”
Dieken gave credit to her senior captain.
“For one, I would like to mention that Erin Hrivnak gave us a great effort, and finishing runner-up is a great finish for her,” she said. “Not to take anything away from Julia Dunbar, who played absolutely amazing today and is a fantastic player, but Erin came out and played on a pulled quad. That was really impressive of her to stick it out for the team.
“She played great, regardless of her injury, and Julia did a great job to win the tournament.”
On the other end of the spectrum, freshman Leah Choban began her career with an SWC championship at second singles. Choban defeated Avon Lake sophomore Alexis Krieg, 6-1, 6-0, in the finals.
“It was kind of an honor,” Choban said. “It was good to represent my school in a positive way. It was a good thing for everyone, not just me.”
Sophomore Lyndsey Golick, who won the SWC crown at first doubles last season with Paavani Reddy, added a singles championship to her mantel with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Brecksville’s Yostina Farid.
“In Leah Choban’s first match, she was a little nervous at the beginning, but she overcame those nerves and did a great job,” Ralph Dunbar said. “Lyndsey, also, following in the footsteps of her sister (former state champ Lauren Golick). Those are pretty big shoes, but Lyndsey’s her own person and she held strong today.”
Reddy teamed up with freshman Gwynn Kelleher to win the first doubles title, defeating Brecksville’s Macie Matta-Madeline Knetig, 6-2, 6-4, in the finals. At second doubles, Sneha Ramachandran and Erin Tanker overcame their No. 2 seed to go 3-0, capping it with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Avon Lake’s Lauren Sabo-Amanda Hoffman in the finals.
“The doubles teams played outstanding at the net today,” Dunbar said. “Their communication at the net was great. They worked all season at that, which is super, super important.”
Sabo and Hoffman, the fourth-seeded team at second doubles, upset the top-seeded duo of Brecksville’s Nicole DeSantis-Lindsey Wargo in the semifinals, 6-3, 7-5. That victory may have been the difference in the Shoregals’ one-point edge for the team runner-up spot.
“Lexi Krieg was a third seed who came in second, which was huge,” Dieken said. “But I think our biggest upset of the day was our second doubles team of Lauren Sabo and Amanda Hoffman, a freshman and a sophomore in their first year on varsity, (who) came in as a fourth seed and wound up finishing as a runner-up.
“Just a phenomenal performance by them, especially to upset the No. 1 seed in Brecksville. That was all the difference today because they should have finished fourth today, based on their seed, and they finished two spots ahead of that. And they beat Brecksville to do it. It was great to see them shine today.”
Hrivnak, Krieg and the duo of Sabo and Hoffman led the way for the Shoregals with their runner-up finishes. Sophomore Rachel Johnson took third at third singles, while Kylee Loebick-Maya Wanner took fourth at first doubles.
Olmsted Falls finished fifth with 13 points, while North Olmsted took seventh with just seven points. The second doubles team of Jenifer Bertrand-Morgan Ashton was the highest finisher for the Bulldogs, placing fourth in their seven-team bracket.