Tuesday, August 05, 2014
LUDLOW — The seniors on the Amherst Regional girls tennis team remembered the feeling of being Western Massachusetts Division 1 champions as freshmen. They wanted to go out just like they came in.
On Thursday, that feeling returned, but it was a little bit sweeter as the top-seeded Hurricanes swept No. 3 Longmeadow, 5-0, for the championship at the Ludlow Tennis Club. The class of 2014 opened their careers with the 2011 title on a 3-2 victory over the Lancers, but lost the 2012 and 2013 titles by the same 3-2 score.
“Winning freshman year gave motivation to win senior year because we knew how it felt,” senior captain Sarah Knapp said. “It’s really surprising. We’ve never swept (the final), at least while I was here.”
And the timing couldn’t have been better for the win as it fell on the eve of graduation.
“I’m really happy because as a freshman, winning Western Mass. was super exciting, and I definitely wanted to do it again,” fellow senior captain Nicole McCann said. “I’m glad that I could before I graduated.”
Amherst (19-0) advanced to the state semifinals where it will play Central Mass. winner Shrewsbury (15-3) at St. John’s of Shrewsbury at 3:30 p.m. on Monday.
The straight-set victory marked the Hurricanes’ fourth consecutive sweep, including the last three in tournament, and the 11th on the season. Amherst has yet to have a match decided by a 3-2 score this season.
The D-1 final has been the same two teams for six straight years and Amherst’s win evened the series with the Lancers (10-5) at 3-3.
“It’s great. They are our rival,” Amherst coach C.J. Holt said. “It’s always been 3-2 every year. All three times that we lost, it was a 3-2 result, so to get a 5-0, it’s a statement. Three-two, 5-0, it’s still a win, but 5-0 does mean something to us.”
It was only fitting that McCann, the three-time Western Massachusetts individual champion, clinched the title, roughly 45 minutes in without dropping a game.
Up 40-15, McCann broke Suzanne Elfman’s serve with a forehand down the sideline off a short ball for the 6-0, 6-0 win.
“I was able to scoot down to (her) court and peak in and watch the championship point. It was nice to be able to watch it,” Holt said. “Nicole knows, not just the set score, but the point score on every court that’s near her because she’s so attuned to what’s going on around it. It’s crazy, so she knew she was the deciding point. I think she had a little hop in her step those last two points.”
A point earlier, Knapp and Hannah Lang had just finished with a 6-0, 6-4 victory at No. 2 doubles. Seeing them win, pushed McCann forward.
“I was like ‘I have two points to win’ so that I can walk off while they were still on the court and say ‘good job’ to them,” McCann said. “And I knew it was the third point, so as soon as I won, I knew we won. ... I tried to stay loose and not be nervous, and I just hit it down the line.”
McCann’s younger sister, Allison, was first off the court after a 6-0, 6-0 dismissal of Rachel Moore in under 30 minutes for Amherst’s first point of the afternoon.
“Second singles is a tough draw for anybody with her there,” Holt said.
Despite the championship being sealed within 45 minutes, the remaining two matches were headed to third sets. Amherst freshman Nya Saunders rallied in the second to force a third set, while Kailey Tobin and Veronica Suchodolski dropped their second set at first doubles.
Tournament officials and coaches agreed to play seven-point tiebreakers instead of a full third set after the required cooling off period.
“I was nervous after we lost the second,” Suchodolski said. “I hate taking 10-minute breaks, so I was worried about slowing down and not being able to return shots, so the fact that we pulled it out is the best.”
Saunders won 7-5 before second doubles started their tiebreaker. Suchodolski and Tobin took an early the lead, got behind and then fought to tie it at 6-6. The sides were tied again at 7-7 before the Hurricanes put the last two points away and sealed the sweep.
“‘I know we can do it,’” Tobin said she thought. “I had confidence in our playing and I knew that we could come back because we’d done it before, just rally through.”
Earlier this season, Holt said his doubles teams would be crucial in the postseason, as to win the sectional title and potentially the state title, Amherst would need to pick up a point outside his No. 1 and 2 singles players. Also, to get past Longmeadow, the Hurricanes needed success in doubles. Entering the season, Amherst’s doubles teams were 2-28 combined in the regular and postseason over the previous five seasons.
Knapp and Lang’s finish in addition to the fight for the sweep from Tobin and Suchodolski proved there is a point elsewhere in the Hurricanes’ latter. It also gave Amherst a 6-0 record in doubles against Longmeadow this season.
“The big point today was second doubles establishing 6-0 in the first set, even though they had to fight in the second set,” Holt said. “That was really important for our psyche on all the courts that could see we just got up a set, besides one of the McCann girls. ... Both doubles have been playing great all year. I think they are playing their best tennis right now, which is exactly what you hope to be saying as a coach.”
Sarah Moomaw can be reached at email@example.com.
Amherst 5, Longmeadow 0
At Ludlow Tennis Club
First singles: Nicole McCann (A) def. Suzanne Elfman 6-0, 6-0; Second singles: Allison McCann (A) def. Rachel Moore 6-0, 6-0; Third singles: Nya Saunders (A) def. Erica Paul 4-6, 6-4, 7-5; First doubles: Kailey Tobin & Veronica Suchodolski (A) def. Brooke Wistreich & Camille Burger 6-4, 4-6, 9-7; Second doubles: Sarah Knapp & Hannah Lang (A) def. Rohini Like & Marissa Schwartz 6-0, 6-4
Records: Longmeadow (10-5); Amherst (19-0)