MYERSTOWN – It wasn’t the U.S. Open. It wasn’t districts, leagues or even the Lebanon County championships.
But anytime Annville-Cleona and Elco get together, you can bet there’s plenty on the line.
On a muggy Tuesday afternoon, the Little Dutchmen took care of their business and the Raiders, 5-2, in an early-season grudge-match that doubled as the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two opener for both girls’ tennis squads. After forging a 2-1 edge in doubles, the Little Dutchmen captured three of the four singles’ matches.
Spearheading the assault was senior tri-captain Alicia Hitz, whose convincing 6-2, 6-1 triumph over Raider 12th-grader Sydney Nye at number-one singles set the tone for the victory. Annville-Cleona clinched the win at number-four singles, where April Barley dismissed Jen Kinsey of Elco, 6-3, 6-1.
The resulted lifted Annville-Cleona to 3-0 on the young season. Elco fell to 1-2 overall.
“I thought they (his players) did amazingly well,” beamed Annville-Cleona head coach Peter Nguyen. “They worked hard all summer. They have a game plan. They executed it. They followed it. They had faith that if they followed the plan, they were going to be OK. It’s a good win, up and down the lineup. I’m really proud of them.
“We had a good match against Ephrata, and we had a good match against Conrad Weiser,” continued Nguyen. “That built up some confidence. You hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
“Honestly, we didn’t finish well,” said Elco head coach Zach Cook. “We were up a lot of times. I know it was hot for both teams, but the heat affected us more. It eneded up being worse for us. The girls are disappointed because they know they can do better. It was obvious that Annville-Cleona has certainly been working on their game.
“It sets the tone for the rest of the year,” Cook continued. “It was our first section match and it was their first section match.Hopefully it’s not indicatie of things to come. The only thing Iwas pleased with was our overall play at number-one doubles.”
Dripping with outside implications, Hitz’s showdown with Nye lived up to its billing, until the fourth game of the first set.
“The score is not indicative of the quality of the match,” said Nguyen. “They had one game that lasted 15-20 minutes. I think it took a toll on Sydney, and it was a good motivational boost for Alicia. Regardless of how long that game was, Alicia kept plugging away. I’m very confident Alicia is going to have a really good year. She’s going to show people she’s the real deal.
“It looked like it drained Sydney,” added Nguyen. “It didn’t look like it physically drained her, but it mentally and emotionally drained her. It looked like it took a lot out of her.”
“There was a super, super long game when Alicia was serving,” said Cook. “And we didn’t win another game after that. Alicia outlasted us. Sydney couldn’t close and finish, but she was setting up her points.
“That (stamina) was a huge part of it,” Cook added. “That’s why she (Nye) missed so many balls. She was a quarter-step behind. It was little things, but that’s what counts. There’s a lot of good (Class AA) singles’ players out there. Certainly Sydney and Alicia are two of them. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
After Barley had settled the outcome in the Little Dutchmen’s favor, Anna Enck scored one for the Raiders’ side at number-three singles, where she shaded A-C’s Katia Luu, 6-2, 6-1.
Then in the final match of what turned into early evening, senior Emma Lerchen placed an exclamation point on the Annville-Cleona triumph with a come-from-behind, 3-6, 6-4, 10-4 victory over Raider junior Kelsey Stubblebine. The two combatants split the first two sets, before Lerchen won five of the first six points in the super-tiebreaker.
“I stress to all my varsity players that they’re part of the team,” said Nguyen. “Each match was equally important. You never know who’s going to show up. It’s a team effort. I can’t say it was one person. You never know how it’s going to go.
“I think they (the Raiders) have a good team. They always have a solid team,” Nguyen continued. “They’re in a similar boat as we are. Five of our top six players are seniors. We want to go out with a bang. Elco played with a lot of heart. It could’ve gone either way. We’ll see Sydney again at leagues and countys.”
“I thought number-two doubles was a big win for them,” said Cook of the Little Dutchmen. “I knew we needed to win two of the three doubles matches. I knew having to win three of four singles matches against that team would be tough. They had better athletes, and at times we looked lost. Sometimes you just put better athletes out there and let them run down balls.
“They’re (the Little Dutchmen) going to be a good team in the league,” continued Cook. “But there’s a lot of teams above them. I was hoping today would go differently, so we could continue to build on it.”
The Raiders scored a spirited win at number-one doubles when Nye and Stubblebine edged Hitz and Lerchen, 8-7 (8-6). Elco prevailed after the Little Dutchmen had rallied from a 6-3 deficit to forge a seven-all deadlock.
Luu and Barley’s 8-6 win over Enck and Kinsey proved to be pivotal, after Addie Heeter and Katie Nyce had taken care of Steph Palashnyuk and Liz Palashnyuk at number-three doubles. Heeeter-Nyce captured two straight games in the middle of the set to turn a 3-2 edge into a 5-2 lead, while Luu-Barley rallied from a 5-4 deficit to win four of their set’s last five games.
“Last year the goal was to develop a work ethic, and the girls understood you get what you put into it, ” said Nguyen. “The girls realize that if you put in the effort, good things will come. That’s what makes the difference. That’s how life is just like the tennis court. You’ve got to create opportunities and then capitalize on them.
“Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League is always tough,” added Nguyen. “You have good teams. Lancaster Catholic will always be tough. You have typical schools who are always going to be tough. My expectations are to be near the top.”
“I’m happy with the way we’ve been practicing,” said Cook. “We think about points. We’re putting things together. But it seems like when points get tight, we don’t shine through.
“They’re a ridiculously nice group of girls,” Cook added. “They’re the nicest group of girls I’ve ever had. In some ways, that works against us. By the end of the season, hopefully we can realize that you don’t always have to be nice. We’re hoping to be competitive in the section. We won the county championship last year, and we’d like to defend it. But to do that, we’ll have to play better than we did today.”
Section Two Standings