NORTON — The Cloverleaf girls tennis team is now certain it can beat three-time reigning Portage Trail Conference champion Norton. The next step is to do it.
The Colts came close Monday but fell 3-2 on a stiflingly hot day at Columbia Woods Pavilion.
“It would be the best feeling ever and the greatest way to end my senior year,” Cloverleaf first singles player Nikki Vargo said of dethroning the Panthers. “It would be a dream come true. Norton wins everything (in the PTC).”
Vargo did her part Monday, improving her record to 7-0 overall and 6-0 in the league with a hard-fought 1-6, 6-4, 10-6 win over Taylor Storad.
The Colts (5-2, 5-1) also got a 6-1, 6-4 win from the first doubles team of Reilly Gold and Taylor Matheny, but the Panthers (5-1, 4-0) triumphed on the other three courts under first-year coach Jill Smith.
Norton second singles player Spencer Clark stayed unbeaten on the season with an impressive 6-1, 6-2 victory over previously undefeated left-hander Grace Donnelly, while the Panthers’ second doubles team of Emma Clark and Alexis Hymes beat Bella Simmons and KK Barczyk 4-6, 6-0, 10-6 in a topsy-turvy match.
The deciding match on the four-court facility at Columbia Woods came at third singles, where Norton’s Klara Tomic used a big first serve to down Annacia Dienes 6-1, 6-2.
Clearly the class of the league, both teams entered the match undefeated at all five positions in PTC play. They will meet again at Cloverleaf on Sept. 13, with the league tournament scheduled for Sept. 19 at Ravenna, where it’s highly possible they could square off for league titles on all five courts.
If Cloverleaf wins the second regular-season match, the overall PTC title would go to the tournament winner. If Norton wins at Cloverleaf, the Colts would have to win the tournament to share the overall crown with the Panthers.
“All of us want to win it really bad,” Matheny said of the PTC title.
The Colts, who finished third overall in 2015 and second the last two years, now know they are capable, but junior left-hander Matheny knew it all along.
“I know everybody else on the team was nervous,” she said, “but I don’t really get nervous. I don’t know why. I was just confident we could beat them.”
With Matheny paired with close friend and classmate Gold for the second straight year — they played second doubles in 2017 — the Colts notched their most convincing win of the day at first doubles.
“We’re best friends, so we really communicate well,” Gold said. “We know what each other is going to do.”
The most entertaining match was the marquee battle at first singles. Vargo looked like she was going to get blown out after winning just one game in a 20-minute first set, but Dienes, who was watching while waiting to get on the court for her match, provided the best advice of the day.
“Annacia Dienes told me it’s not over till it’s over,” Vargo said. “That really helped me a lot. It put my mindset into a good perspective.”
Though clearly tired due to the heat, Vargo began extending points in the second set, then came back from 2-0 and 5-4 deficits in the 10-point, third-set tiebreaker.
“I’m definitely the sweatiest I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have made it through (a full third set). I started shaking because the heat really got to me.
“I’m anxiety filled, so I tend not to eat as much as I should (before a match). It bit me on the butt today because (Storad) didn’t look nearly as tired as I was, but that’s OK.”
It was OK because Vargo persevered in the tiebreaker, where she won the final four points.
“In the tiebreaker, it was one point at a time,” she said. “It was taking it point by point and not looking at the big picture.”
That big picture also looks pretty good for the Colts, who proved an extremely worthy challenger to the Panthers. All that’s left to do is beat them.
Cloverleaf 3, Norton 2
Portage Trail Conference
Singles: Nikki Vargo (C) def. Taylor Storad, 1-6, 6-4, 10-6; Spencer Clark (N) def. Grace Donnelly, 6-1, 6-2; Klara Tomic (N) def. Annacia Dienes, 6-1, 6-2. Doubles: Reilly Gold/Taylor Matheny (C) def. Kristen Baker/Taylor Casey, 6-1, 6-4; Emma Clark/Alexis Hymes (N) def. Bella Simmons/KK Barczyk, 4-6, 6-0, 10-6. Records: Cloverleaf (5-2, 5-1), Norton (5-1, 4-0).