DuBOIS — The District 9 Class AA Team Tennis finals has turned into a de facto St. Marys city championship in recent years, and this season was no different as cross-town rivals St. Marys and Elk County Catholic squared off for the title for the third straight year Tuesday at DuBois Area High School.
And, for the third straight time it was the St. Marys Lady Dutch who left DAHS courts with gold medals around their necks and team championship plaque in tow back north after coming away with a 4-1 victory.
The finals showdown between the rivals was actually the fourth in the past five years, with St. Marys winning all four. The Lady Dutch won the previous three finals against ECC — in 2013, 2015 and 2016 — all by a 3-2 score.
The lone blip for the two rivals in that stretch came in 2014 when Punxsutawney — in its first year back in Class AA — edged Brockway, 3-2, for the team crown.
But, it’s been St. Marys which has staked claim to being the best D-9 AA team since 2014. And, the Lady Dutch show no signs of relinquishing its place at the top after winning its third title in a row with a lineup that featured three freshmen and five underclassmen of the seven that competed Tuesday.
Conversely, ECC had four players — three of which are seniors — who competed in the past three teams finals.
Senior Kayla Mitchell is the lone player on St. Marys’ current roster to have played in all three team finals and has posted a 2-1 record in doubles action. And fittingly, it was Mitchell who helped seal the Lady Dutch’s title for a second year in a row.
Mitchell and freshman doubles partner Brooke Henry pulled out a hard-fought 7-5, 7-5 win at No. 1 doubles over ECC seniors Alicia Fritz and Isabeau Stager to give St. Marys its third win of the day and the crown in the best-of-five format.
A year ago, Mitchell teamed up with then senior Taylor Klaiber to top Lady Crusaders Emily Evers and Allie Gier for the decisive third victory for the Lady Dutch.
The two rivals combined to win all three district titles this year, with St. Marys freshman Samantha Hayes capturing the singles crown and Lady Crusader seniors Emily Miller and Jenna Minard taking home the doubles title.
“Obviously, we’re young and still learning, but I’m so happy with the way things turned out today,” said St. Marys coach Dave Lion. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“We have two seniors graduating, and they have been able to do this three times in a row now playing at different levels on the team. As much as they are individuals out here, it is a team spor. It’s tough to remind them of that at times, but days like today show them that.”
St. Marys jumped out to a 1-0 lead when its No. 2 doubles teams of senior Samantha Samick and junior Lydia Wiest made quick work of Lady Crusaders Victoria Glatt and Maggie Challingsworth, 6-0, 6-0.
Hayes then put St. Marys up 2-0 when she finished off a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Miller at No. 1 singles.
Elk County got on the scoreboard at No. 2 singles, where Minard bested Lady Dutch freshman Lilia Lion, 6-2, 6-3 to make it 2-1.
All eyes then turned to the No. 1 doubles and No. 3 singles matches, which were the two best contests of the day. After Minard’s victory, Mitchell and Henry had already won the first set (7-5) in their doubles contest, while ECC junior Emma Coppolo and St. Marys Junior Isabela Ehrensberger were in the late stages of their first set at No. 3 singles.
And, it was Mitchell and Henry who were able to come away with the title-sealing point when for the second straight set they won the final two games to secure a 7-5, 7-5 victory.
Meanwhile, Coppolo won the first set in a hard-fought tiebreaker over Ehrensberger, 7-6 (7-5). However, Ehrensberger rallied from a set down to put an exclamation point on the Lady Dutch’s day. She won the second set 6-2, and with St. Marys having secured the crown, it was decided by officials to have the pair play a 10-point match-tiebreaker instead of a regular 6-game third set.
And, that third-set tiebreaker was as close as the overall match between the duo. Ehrensberger raced out to a 5-1 lead, only to see Coppolo battle back to take an 8-7 advantage. However, Ehrensberger won the final two points to take the tiebreaker, 10-8, to complete her comeback victory.
“It was close there in last matches, and things can go either way until the last ball drops,” said Lion. “Tennis can really have a roller-coaster effect with momentum changes, and you just never know what is going to happen. You have to play until that last ball drops and I think they did that.
“Kayla has played in different capacities and really made a difference in previous years, and today was no different and she really stepped up again. And, it was great to see Isabela battle back and win even with the match decided. It may not have meant something (overall), but I think it mean something to them (Ehrensberger, Coppolo) on the court.”
As for ECC coach Pete Meier, he has nothing but praise for both teams.
“It was a great season, and it’s nice when all the (district) champions are coming out of St. Marys (city),” said Meier. “They have a nice team and are going to have a nice team for a long, long time. But, we have nice kids and four seniors who are going to be hard to let go.
“We had a chance to win, but we fell short a little in first doubles. It would have been interesting to see that the third singles would have been like if we had won that one. I think it would have been a different outcome. It’s hard to be the only one out there playing once the match is decided.”
St. Marys will play the District 7 champion at site to be determined in the opening round of states on Tuesday.