A year ago, Highland’s Emily Hadler was seeded fourth at the Medina Division I Sectional tennis tournament and grabbed a district berth by finishing third.
Now a sophomore, Hadler is seeded first this time around and will be out to justify that honor when sectional play begins today at 8 a.m. at Springside Racquet & Fitness Club.
“I want to finish first,” said the soft-spoken Hadler, who was eliminated from postseason play last year when she lost her first match at the Medina District. “That’s definitely my goal, but I’m going to take it one match at a time. If it happens, that would be great.”
A clear-cut choice as the top seed, the 15-year-old Hadler defeated No. 2 seed Mia Zivkovic of Brecksville 6-0, 6-1 in the regular season. She beat No. 3 seed Brianna Rawlings of Aurora twice this season while repeating as Suburban League American Conference first singles champion — the Hornets won at all five positions en route to defending their team crown — and last year defeated No. 4 seed Cora Shane of Cuyahoga Falls in the third-place match at sectionals.
“I expect her to play steady,” Highland coach Lisa Reynolds said. “She plays hard and she has great stamina. She’s very focused and very driven.”
Hadler, who is 27-4 overall and 25-3 in singles play this season, expects to benefit from the knowledge she gained while going 28-5 as a freshman.
“I added some more tools to my toolbox and gained a lot of confidence,” she said. “I’ve added some slice, if I need it. I also have more experience. As a freshman, you really don’t know what to expect. This year, there won’t be a lot of unpredictable stuff.
“Mentally, I’ve gotten stronger, which is very important in tennis. It’s super important to be mentally tough. When someone lets their emotions get the better of them, it’s a huge advantage for the other player.”
Hadler is Medina County’s best bet when it comes to earning the top-four placement necessary to advance to district play, but Medina’s Elizabeth Stuart, Wadsworth’s Gabriela Heideman, Highland’s Rachel Fannin and the Wadsworth doubles team of Hannah Jarolim and Patricia De Minon also have a shot.
In the Rocky River D-II Sectional at Tri-City Park, Cloverleaf’s best player, senior Maddie Huff, got an unfavorable draw and likely will face Hathaway Brown’s second-seeded Maddie Lynch, a returning state qualifier, in the quarterfinals.
A strong argument can be made that the Bees’ Stuart should have been the fourth seed at the Medina Sectional instead of Cuyahoga Falls’ Shane, but the freshman probably still would have been in the same bracket as Shane, Wadsworth’s Heideman and Strongsville’s Paige Meyers.
Stuart, who beat Heideman twice this season and could meet her again in the third round, beat Shane 6-2, 6-1 in a non-league match and split two meetings with Meyers.
“For any of those top players — Wadsworth, Strongsville, Cuyahoga Falls, us — it’s who is playing well that day,” Bees coach Pete Hoffmann said. “Even if you think you’re the better player, you still have to play well that day.”
Heideman, a sophomore who has been battling a shoulder injury, also lost to Shane twice this season and fell to Meyers in a 10-point third set, but she has the talent to advance if she can harness her powerful strokes and limit unforced errors.
“She’s been learning to be a more competitive player,” Grizzlies coach Kristy Nichol said. “She’s being more selective on her shots and knowing when to play neutral and when to go for it.”
Highland sophomore Fannin, a two-time SL American Conference second singles champion, appears ticketed for a quarterfinal meeting with the second-seeded Zivkovic.
“The girl from Brecksville is very good, but I think her style of play will be very good for Rachel,” Reynolds said. “Rachel is one of those players who pushes forward, so if you shorten the ball up, she can do very well.”
Wadsworth senior Jarolim, a two-time All-Gazette choice who played second singles in the regular season, teamed with Sarah Elfers to earn a district doubles berth after being unseeded in 2015. She and De Minon, an exchange student from Spain, likely will have to get by Brecksville’s fourth-seeded Alana Thomas and Verena Farid in the quarterfinals.
“I definitely think they can (advance),” Nichol said. “They have hard, low shots. They’re able to force errors or deeper shots from their opponent and put it away at the net.”
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