RAVENNA — The Cloverleaf girls tennis team was two games from winning the first league championship in program history.
Then things suddenly started slipping further and further away, as now four-time defending champion Norton rallied and put up 46 points to the Colts’ 44 Wednesday at the Portage Trail Conference Tournament.
“Honestly, it’s the worst feeling in the world,” said Cloverleaf senior Annacia Dienes, who finished second at third singles. “I came into today really confident we were going to come out with the title and we didn’t.
“And it’s partially my fault.”
After splitting matches in the regular season and finishing with 13-1 league records, the Colts and Panthers squared off in all five finals in what was essentially a third dual match between the schools.
The Colts jumped ahead with a gutsy and topsy-turvy win from the second doubles team of junior Bella Simmons and sophomore KK Barczyk, who held against Alexis Hymes and Taylor Casey 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.
Cloverleaf made it 2-0 when juniors Reilly Gold and Taylor Matheny concluded a 17-0 PTC season by downing Kristen Baker and Emma Clark 6-3, 6-1 at first doubles.
With Cloverleaf first singles player Nikki Vargo already down big in what became a 6-1, 6-2 loss to league MVP Taylor Storad and No. 2 player Grace Donnelly a heavy underdog in her later match against the Panthers’ Spencer Clark — Clark won 6-0, 6-0 to cap an undefeated PTC season — the league championship hinged on the outcome at third singles.
The stand-up Dienes, who was unaware of the team title implications of her match while on the court, battled gamely but ran out of gas in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss to Norton’s Klara Tomic.
“I think I got overconfident,” said Dienes, who was up 4-1 in the second set. “I just really lost it. I started making more errors than I should have been.”
Dienes continued to make her opponent work, but Tomic used a solid first serve to record some easy points and also began winning more and more long rallies as the match progressed.
“Your whole mindset is different when you go from playing so well to starting to lose it,” said Dienes, who had a long break after winning her second match of the day. “I tried to stay fighting, but the heat and so much tennis just got to me.”
The tournament was officially decided when Clark blanked Donnelly at second singles. In losing to Clark for the third time this season, Donnelly engaged in some long rallies but was unable to finish many points against an opponent who got to almost everything.
On the positive side for the Colts, they dominated at first doubles, where Gold and Matheny beat Norton for the third time this season.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Matheny said. “I had no idea we were going to do this well this season.”
The second doubles final was a thriller. Behind great net play from Simmons, Cloverleaf jumped to a 5-1 lead in the first set and held on to win 6-4, but Norton won the second set easily. Simmons and Barczyk led 5-2 in the third set, but the Panthers rallied to tie before Cloverleaf regrouped and won 7-5.
“I got really anxious,” said Barczyk, whose actual first name is Makaylee. “What if we don’t win? What would happen? But I knew we would win because we would not lose the PTC.”
Added Simmons: “In the second set, we started getting in our heads. It was (up and down) every time we played them, so it’s pretty freakin’ cool that we won. This means a lot. This is the first year on varsity for both of us, but our teammates have been so supportive. They challenge us, but it means we didn’t let them down or each other.”
In the end, the Colts, who have entered the PTC Tournament with a realistic shot at winning or sharing the overall title all four years they’ve been in the league, came up just short. As a result, a program founded in 1977 remains without a conference crown, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“The girls just played their hearts out,” said 15th-year coach Brenda Hewit, a 1976 Cloverleaf graduate who played on the boys team. “We were just two games away from winning the whole thing. (Dienes) feels bad, but she shouldn’t. We had a good (league) season. We just need to find some way to beat Norton at the tournament.”
Portage Trail Conference Tournament
(all Norton vs. Cloverleaf)
First singles: Taylor Storad (N) def. Nikki Vargo, 6-1, 6-2. Second singles: Spencer Clark (N) def. Grace Donnelly, 6-0, 6-0. Third singles: Klara Tomic (N) def. Annacia Dienes, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. First doubles: Reilly Gold/Taylor Matheny (C) def. Kristen Baker/Emma Clark, 6-3, 6-1. Second doubles: Bella Simmons/KK Barczyk (C) def. Alexis Hymes/Taylor Casey, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.