By Jake Thompson
AVON — Winning three matches in four days while overcoming three county rivals, one conference foe and a spot of weather, the Avon Orioles girls’ tennis team won their first sectional title since 2006. Avon won its three matches by a combined 14-1 record and downed Plainfield 5-0 in the finals early Saturday afternoon.
“To win that convincingly, I’m kind of shocked that we breezed right through this thing,” Avon coach Stan Malless said. “Although it looked like that on the surface, Plainfield really battled us today in every match. To win all five, and in straight sets, is a heck of a way to finish up.”
Plainfield coach Keith Bradley was proud of his squad’s effort, especially after the Quakers’ hard-earned semifinals victory over conference foe Mooresville Thursday night.
“The girls fought hard and we put our best foot forward and when you do that, that’s all you can ask for,” Bradley said. “Today, Avon was just better and you tip your hat to Stan and the girls. They played a great match today.”
After defeating Plainfield 4-1 late in the regular season, the lone match Avon dropped was at No. 2 singles. Sabrina Becker had just moved into the slot after playing doubles and was becoming familiar competing without a partner again.
The outcome was far different this time around and started Avon out with a 1-0 lead in the match.
Becker was the first off the court after dropping Plainfield’s Audrey Koeberlein 6-0, 6-3.
Avon freshman Grace Langford was the second to leave the court after besting Plainfield’s Carrie Copeland 6-1, 6-0 in a battle of two freshmen. Langford stymied Copeland for most of their match with a variety of shots.
“She’s just so versatile,” Malless said.
With Avon up 2-0 and leading 1-0 in No 1 and 2 doubles and No. 3 singles, rain moved in and delayed the match. That gave Plainfield time to regroup, but the momentum kept rolling for Avon following the break.
At No. 3 singles, Avon substituted Maddie Jones for Kari Thrasher due to an injury suffered earlier in the week. Jones took down the Plainfield’s Arden Allen 6-4, 6-2. Allen’s tenacious play in the Quaker’ semifinal had advanced Plainfield into the finals.
Avon’s Mikala Hillis and Erin Pool took a 6-1 first set over Plainfield’s Kristen Lees and Jessie Rigdon and fell behind 3-2 in the second set before making a comeback, winning 6-3.
In No. 2 doubles, Avon’s Brittany Berg and Audrie Hillis battled Plainfield’s Bailey Jackman and Betsy Gillenwater for a 6-4 first set win before taking the second set 6-3.
Plainfield loses Koeberlein, Jackman and Gillenwater to graduation and according to Bradley; the trio will certainly be missed.
“Audrey has been a four-year varsity player and has been solid all season for us and was the deciding factor in Thursday’s match as it was the first time she had beat Mooresville’s Fitzpatrick,” Bradley said. “For our seniors at No. 2 doubles, they played their best tennis this week. For those girls to pick up a tennis racket two-and-a-half months a year and come and perform the way they did the last two matches of the season, I couldn’t be happier for the way they finished their careers.”
For Malless, who is retiring at season’s end, the victory and sectional title were sweet.
“It is awesome and for myself, it’s great,” Malless said. “Coaches say this, but I honestly can’t think of a team that I’ve felt closer to and more proud of than this one. This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever coached. They’re going to do better each year. Whoever takes over could possibly be looking at a state championship.”