NORWALK – Creston/O-M’s top doubles pairing was in for a long day Wednesday at regionals after playing nine sets of tennis over arguably the warmest day of the season.
It was likely a day that felt even longer as Megan Haley and Maddie Frey opened up their regional doubles tournament with a three set, 3 hour, 15 minute marathon that the Panthers battled for a win.
After taking the opening set in a tiebreaker 7-6 (7-2), Haley and Frey dropped the second set 6-4.
Following a 10-minute break before a decisive third set, the Panther duo opened up with a break of serve, but quickly gave it back to the Ballard combo of Jenna Hernandez and Rachel Wohlgemuth.
In fact, Ballard went on to hold serve and break the Panthers again, jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the final set.
Though head coach Kevin Cooper admitted it wasn’t Haley’s best day of serving, when she needed it most in the opening match it was there.
Cooper added that Haley’s improvements in velocity and spin in her serve from her junior to senior seasons was a product of offseason work.
“At team regionals, she was just lighting it up with serves,” said Cooper.
The Panther senior held her serve and then broke the Bombers serve to move back in front 4-3. The duo held serve the rest of the way to force a third set tiebreaker at 6-all.
At 3-2, Creston/O-M won a major point that shifted confidence in their favor as they went on to win the next three points and ended the match with a 7-6 (2) win in the final set.
“We had several times where the writing was on the wall. Just a tight match back and forth. It could have gone either way and they just kept plugging and kept fighting and being competitive,” said Cooper.
The grueling opening match gave the Panthers’ future opponents time to sit and rest while Haley and Frey were forced to play catch up.
It didn’t make much of a difference in the quarterfinal as the Panther duo waltzed through their opposing competition 6-2, 6-1 to meet up with the top-seeded pairing from Clarke with a spot in the state tournament on the line.
Haley and Clarke’s Deseree Stubbe traded pummeling spin serves at and away from each other, while Frey lurked around the net and put away misplayed shots like she had done in the first two matches.
It was the Panthers that blinked first though, as the Lady Indians took the first set 6-2.
Frey and Haley hung around in the second set, but the Lady Indians were too strong, earning a 6-2, 6-4 win in the semifinals before winning the region in their final match of the evening.
The Panther duo dropped into the third place match against another pairing from Ballard that had knocked their C/O-M teammates Morgan Driskell and Sam Dunphy out of the tournament earlier in the day.
The Bombers had the same fate for the Panthers, winning the third place match 6-3, 6-2, meaning Haley and Frey matched their seed on the day in taking fourth.
“I knew they were going to be a good team,” said Cooper. “This was huge for Maddie to experience that as a sophomore. Not many sophomores make it to the semifinals. ... She’s getting that taste of success here.”
Driskell and Dunphy faced the other Clarke doubles pairing to open up their regional tournament, getting a 6-3, 6-4 win over a combo they had beaten previously this season.
In their quarterfinal match against Ballard, the young Panther doubles team had a chance to force a first set tiebreak, but couldn’t close out a late opportunity and dropped the first set 7-5. The Bombers won the second set 6-1.
Just like her teammates, Junior Heylee Shields was run through the gauntlet over the course of the day, battling with a seeded opponent in the quarterfinals.
After a first round win of 6-0, 6-3, Shields met Clarke’s Megan Linskens, who was the fourth seed in the draw.
Dropping the first set 6-1 didn’t damper the confidence of the Panther No. 3, who battled back in the second set and picked up a big break of serve and hold to take a 6-5 lead late in the second set.
Linskens forced the set into a tiebreaker where the two traded blows before Shields finally did enough to take a two-point edge and earn a 9-7 win in the tiebreaker.
The third set was eerily similar as both players battled for an opening, which didn’t come until the final moments when Linskens snagged the third and final set 7-5 to move into the semifinals.
“A close match all the way around. A great day for her,” Cooper said. “She’s had a great last week and she is one of the keys to our next year.”
Karly Calvin got her first taste of the regional singles draw Wednesday and opened against North Polk’s regular season No. 1 singles player, Chloe Laizure.
Laizure, a senior, took the match by a final of 6-3, 6-2, but Cooper noted that Calvin and most of the Panthers were tasked with competing with players with a lot more experience.
“I thought Karly played a great. She opens with North Polk’s No. 1 and played her well,” said Cooper.
Without a member of the team advancing to the state tournament, Creston/O-M girls tennis season officially came to a close Wednesday in Norwalk.
Creston will lose its top player, Haley, to graduation, but will return the rest of the lineup for next season
Singles – First round: Heylee Shields (C/O-M) def. Sophia Sebetka (Audubon) 6-0, 6-3; Chloe Laizure (Norwalk) def. Karly Calvin (C/O-M) 6-3, 6-2. Quarterfinals: Megan Linskens (Clarke) def. Shields (C/O-M) 6-1, 6-7 (7), 7-5.
Doubles – First round: Megan Haley/Maddie Frey (C/O-M) def. Jenna Hernandez/Rachel Wohlgemuth (Ballard) 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (2); Morgan Driskell/Sam Dunphy (C/O-M) def. Chailyn Beydler/Alivia Bakley (Clarke) 6-3, 6-4. Quarterfinals: Haley/Frey (C/O-M) def. Rachel Lesley/Ellie Riter (Nor) 6-2, 6-1; Lindsey Kaldenberg/Hannah Elliott (Bal) def. Driskell/Dunphy (C/O-M) 7-5, 6-1. Semifinals: Deseree Stubbe/CeJay Blakely (Clarke) def. Haley/Frey (C/O-M) 6-2, 6-4. Third place match: Kaldenberg/Elliott (Bal) def. Haley/Frey (C/O-M) 6-3, 6-2.