The Yale girls tennis team won the BWAC title Friday afternoon behind first-year head coach Steve Churchill and a strong group of seniors.
“I stepped into a great group of girls and parents, I was just there to smile and [say] ‘Let’s go girls, you got this,’” a humble Churchill said. “I’m hoping this is the start of many things to come.”
With a dominant showing in the conference tournament, the Bulldogs have laid a solid foundation. The team placed in the top three in each of the eight flights, taking first at No. 1 and No. 4 singles, as well as No. 3 doubles.
Emilia Brand was the overall BWAC champion at No. 1 singles, finishing with a 5-1 regular season conference record. She won 6-2, 6-3 over Croswell-Lexington sophomore Elizabeth Pardy in the semifinal before playing Imlay City freshman Emma Keeping in the championship.
“I still think I haven’t realized it, but it’s pretty cool. I’m really happy. I didn’t expect it, especially in the middle of my second match, I was like, ‘OK I’m just trying my best, I can do this,’” Brand said. “I just tried to tell myself to do little steps, like if I missed a point, I’d think, ‘OK go on, don’t think about it and don’t try to interrupt yourself with people cheering.’”
Brand, originally from Germany, is attending Yale as a foreign exchange student. She said she’s been playing tennis since she was a young child and being on the team this spring gave her a sense of home – and a sense of accomplishment.
Churchill said Brand plays a with a very strategic style, rather than going for the “hero shot.”
“I think she controls the game and the speed better than anyone,” he said. “She can slow a game down and then when she’s ready, speed it up.”
That was evident in the championship against Keeping. After splitting the first two sets each at 6-2, Brand began to pull away in the third match and eventually win 6-2.
A similar story was told at No. 4 singles as Ava Schatzberg defeated Armada sophomore Aitana Gonzalez 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Schatzberg’s only loss in the regular season was to Gonzalez, making Friday's victory even more meaningful.
“Ava pushed through and gave it her all. She was gassed,” Churchill said. “We just said, ‘This is it, this is for your senior year, don’t leave anything out there.’ She just kept pushing, she had tears running down her face and she was like, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’”
Even seniors Gracie Ostrander and Ava Richards had to battle at No. 3 doubles for their title, defeating Armada’s Abbey Huston and Allie Davis 6-3, 5-7, 6-0.
“From top to bottom, at the end everyone was fighting for something,” Churchill said. “All of them were rising up and fighting through.”
At No. 2 singles, Imlay City junior Hannah Sapp defeated Croswell-Lexington senior Alleyna Martinez 7-5, 7-6(5), and at No. 3 singles, Cros-Lex junior Abby Cooper defeated Yale senior Hailey Tesluck 6-4, 6-2.
In doubles play, Cros-Lex seniors Kobi and Kylee Stribling defended their conference title when they defeated Yale senior Emily Fisher and junior Grace Kecskes 6-1, 6-3. Their dominant performance in the championship, however, wasn’t necessarily a guarantee.
The Stribling sisters had lost to Yale and Armada (seniors Anna Reschke and Meya Drob) back in April, making Saturday’s matchups a bit more interesting. After sweeping Algonac (Avryl Parker and Sophia Nash) 6-0, 6-1 in the first round, they took on Armada with boosted confidence and won 6-1, 7-5 to send them to the championship against Yale.
“We just went for it,” Kylee Stribling said. “In the regular season we struggled a bit, but we took care of business this time…We wanted to defend our title.”
“I think we had a different mindset. We wanted to be disciplined and ready to go and take first,” Kobi Stribling added.
And one of the most interesting stories from the day came at No. 2 doubles as Almont senior Avis Schapman and sophomore Natalie Frederick came in ranked sixth and walked away as champions.
“We just wanted to do our best. We were aiming for at least first, second or third. But coming into the championship, after we lost the first set, we were like, ‘That’s fine, second’s fine,’ but then something clicked,” Schapman said. “We just kept winning, and we were like, ‘We might as well see how far we can get.’”
They wound up winning a close three-set match (2-6, 6-2, 7-5) over Armada’s Grace Rangel and Jane Noch. And on their way to the championship, they had to defeat Cros-Lex (6-2, 6-1) and Yale (7-5, 7-6 (10)), both of whom they lost to in the regular season.
For Schapman, it was the perfect way to end her varsity career, while for Frederick, it gives hope for the future.
“I’m excited to see what the next two years are going to hold,” Frederick said. “It’s going to be weird not playing with Avis though. We’ve been partners the last two years. We’re really good at communicating and picking each other up.”
And rounding out the championship matches, Armada’s Keegan Brumley and Lyndsie Naniewicz defeated Annika Hughes and Lauren Green of Yale 6-3 , 6-4 at No. 4 doubles.
As a team, Armada finished second overall in the league standings, followed by Cros-Lex, Imlay City, Almont, Richmond, and Algonac.
The 2023 First-Team All-Conference members are:
Alyssa Pruss (Algonac), Shelby Philion (Armada), Andrea Frederick (Almont), Elizabeth Pardy (Cros-Lex), Alleyna Martinez (Cros-Lex), Abby Cooper (Cros-Lex), Emma Keeping, Hannah Sapp (Imlay City), Ella Allen (Richmond), Emilia Brand (Yale), and Tori Painter (Yale).
Teams will now shift their focus to their respective regional championships set for Wednesday and Thursday, May 17-18.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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