May 15—NAPPANEE — The Northridge girls tennis team backed up their 7-0 regular season Northern Lakes Conference mark by winning the conference tournament, which ended Friday night at NorthWood High School in Nappanee.
The Raiders won individual championships at four of five positions, with the only loss coming in a three-set match at No. 3 singles.
Northridge went 14-1 overall across the three-day tournament.
"It's very special," said Northridge coach Austin Christner on winning the conference tournament. "We've worked all year for this, right? This is the end goal: to have momentum heading into sectional week. I'm just really proud of the girls. That record doesn't show how hard those matches were; I thought, at every spot, we were pushed. Our girls responded to the challenge, which I'm thankful for."
Christner, who's in his first year leading the Northridge program, was named NLC coach of the year by his peers as well.
"You know what makes good coaches? Good players," Christner quipped. "I was very fortunate to step into a program that has a lot of really, really good players."
Although Northridge won four championship matches Friday, they all weren't easy. Both No. 1 doubles and No. 2 doubles matches went the distance, with the Raiders edging their competition in both instances.
In the No. 1 doubles match, Brynne Gayler and Peyton Keiper won the first set, 6-3, over NorthWood's Amy Adams and Emery Porter. The second set was all Panthers, though, as they won 6-1 to force a third and decisive set.
With the match on the line, the senior duo from Northridge clawed their way to a 6-4 third set victory.
"I thought NorthWood played unbelievably that second set, and I think our girls were a little frustrated," Christner said. "At the end of the day, NorthWood stepped up and just played a really good set. But I was really happy to see that third set, it was back and forth, and we ended up coming out on top. NorthWood gave all we could take tonight."
NorthWood coach Tif Schwartz was proud of Adams and Porter's effort.
"I felt like we were right there with them the whole time," Schwartz said. "We had them flustered, we had them frustrated and they played well. My girls are a sophomore and freshman, so this is their freshman season. (Northridge) has been playing for a while; they're seniors. To have the inexperience and give them that much pressure, I was very proud.
At No. 2 doubles, the Northridge duo of Taylin Cress and Morgan Mack lost the first set, 2-6, and trailed in the second set 0-3 to Concord's Addi May and Megan Burkert. From that point on, though, Cress and Mack controlled the match, winning 12 of the next 14 games to win the second set, 6-3, and the third set, 6-2.
"Concord came out with some energy and some spunk, for sure," Christner said. "Our girls got a little down on themselves, but they picked themselves up out of that hole and just ran with it; got the momentum going. I love to see them fight back because, this year, we haven't had that many opportunities for them to do that. They've been so dominate, so for them to be down in a hole and fight back — going into sectional week, that gives me a lot of hope and promise."
Even in defeat, Concord coach Todd Denton commended the way Burkert and May played.
"I couldn't be prouder of those two," Denton said. "They're girls that do a little bit of drills before the season; like, Addi is a big volleyballer, and they just come out and give all they've got. This is the best match I've seen from a Concord player this year on the girls team."
Other champions for Northridge were senior Riley Wheatley at No. 1 singles and sophomore Lilah Dean at No. 2 singles. Wheatley's win officially clinched the conference title outright for the Raiders.
All focus for teams now turns to the sectionals, which begin next week. NorthWood and Goshen compete in a four-team sectional, along with Fairfield and Bethany Christian. Goshen coach Daniel Love feels like his team is playing well heading into the postseason.
"We're playing fairly well," Love said. "I'm thankful we have a practice (Saturday) and have one Tuesday because it's been five days since we've had a practice. Match after match after match, there's some things you want to work on. So, we'll get a chance to do that."
Northridge enters the postseason with a target on their back. They're ranked No. 17 in the state and will be hosting their own sectional and regional. The Raiders will be the heavy favorite to make it to the semistate round out of their regional, which is fine with Christner.
"I've already talked to the girls about 'the target' ... People are aware that we're a good team, and people want to beat good teams," Christner said. "If we don't bring it every night from here on out, we can go home early. Nobody wants to see that; this team is very capable of making a good run."
2021 NLC Girls Tennis Championships — final results
Final team standings:
No. 1 singles:
* Championship match: Riley Wheatley (NR) def. Miranda German (Ply), 6-3, 6-2
* 3rd place match: Lucy Kramer (GHS) def. Gabriella Umbower (NW), 6-2, 6-0
* 5th place match: Kiah Farrington (Wawa) def. Rylee Brenneman (Con), 6-1, 6-1
* 7th place match: Paige Zawadski (War) def. Kylee Creech (Mish), 6-1, 6-1
No. 2 singles:
* Championship match: Lilah Dean (NR) def. Aubrey Vervynckt (Ply), 6-4, 6-4
* 3rd place match: Britton Jesse (NW) def. Mara Schrock (GHS), 6-2, 6-1
* 5th place match: Regan Brouwer (War) def. Tasia Greznia (Mish), 6-1, 6-0
* 7th place match: Clare Steele (Con) def. Casey Yankosky (Wawa), 6-1, 6-1
No. 3 singles:
* Championship match: Bella Kain (Ply) def. Maia Schmucker (NR), 3-6, 6-2, 6-4
* 3rd place match: Megan Mishler (War) def. Maddie Copsey (Con), 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
* 5th place match: Ashlyn Feller (NW) def. Sarah Harmelink (GHS), 6-1, 6-1
* 7th place match: Kaitlynn Jackson (Wawa) def. Olivia Fielding (Mish), 6-0, 6-1
No. 1 doubles:
* Championship match: Brynne Gayler/Peyton Keiper (NR) def. Amy Adams/Emery Porter (NW), 6-3, 1-6, 6-4
* 3rd place match: Taylor Delp/Ellie Jones (Ply) def. Marie Frazzetta/Peri Britton (War), 7-5, 6-2
* 5th place match: Joya Drenth/Kathryn Detweiler (GHS) def. Tate Cowan/Abby Morehead (Wawa), 6-3, 6-0
* 7th place match: Kate Steele/Gracie Westlake (Con) def. Ava Raker/Isabella Santa (Mish), 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 doubles:
* Championship match: Taylin Cress/Morgan Mack (NR) def. Maggie Burkert/Addi May (Con), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
* 3rd place match: Kate Stillson/Paige Henschen (NW) def. Cassidy Riddle/Annie Plothow (Ply), 6-2, 6-4
* 5th place match: Abril Diaz/Tori Barkey (GHS) def. Kenley Stewart/Allison Clark (Wawa), 6-2, 6-3
* 7th place match: Anna Brehany/Kennedy Wiedman (War) def. Grace Selesky/Cameron Ramirez (Mish), 6-2, 6-0
NLC Coach of the Year: Austin Christner, Northridge
All-Conference selections: All five position winners (seven players) are named all-conference. Three others were selected as at-large all-conference players: Miranda German, Aubrey Vervynckt and Lucy Kramer. Honorable mentions for all-conference were selected as well: Kiah Farrington, Amy Adams/Emery Porter, Gabby Umbower, Joya Drenth/Kathryn Detweiler, Rylee Brenneman, Maia Schmucker and Taylor Delp/Ellie Jones.
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.