Emily Witt knows all about high school tennis success. That doesn’t mean the Magnificat senior and Grafton resident has had it easy.
Sure, she qualified for the Division I state tournament the past two years, falling just one match shy of finishing in the top four and earning first-team All-Ohio honors a year ago.
Still, she’s had her share of tough times, such as having to square off against Westlake’s Lauren Golick, who prevented Witt from winning a sectional or district title the past two years and who ended her season last year with a 6-3, 6-1 win on the way to her first state title.
But that wasn’t the hardest part. Not by a long shot.
That came the week before state, when she had to overcome a high ankle sprain at the Division I district tournament at Oberlin College.
After winning her first set in what turned out to be a 6-2, 7-6 (7-1) first-round win over Green’s Danielle Beyes, Witt went back for a long ball and rolled her right ankle.
“It definitely wasn’t the ideal situation, but in sports, you have adversity,” Witt said.
“Unfortunately, it came at a time that I really wasn’t looking forward to. You just have to put it aside. I worked so hard to get there.
“I had already won the first set and I could have easily walked away and said, ‘Oh well, there’s next year,’ but I knew I had to grind it out. I just fought hard and I was driven by my passion for the game. There was so much adrenaline pumping with districts and a chance to get to state. After the first couple games, seeing how I could move, I just kind of blocked it out of my mind.”
Facing Medina’s Ali Garrity, the No. 1 seed, in the quarterfinals, Witt survived a 2-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5 thriller to punch her ticket to state for the second straight year, all while having limited use of her right foot and ankle.
“I didn’t want to use the injury as an excuse,” she said. “(Playing Garrity), I think that gave me more firepower and even more motivation to win. I gritted through it.”
With her ankle taped up two days later, Witt lost 6-2, 6-1 to Massillon Jackson’s Tessa Hill, the Canton sectional champion in the semifinals. Despite a better showing in the third-place match, Witt fell to Walsh Jesuit senior and three-time state qualifier Katelyn Hissong, 6-4, 6-2.
“It was not 100 percent at state,” Witt said. “It was a very swollen foot, but being there, I knew that I could take some time off afterward and heal it. So I played through it.
“I remember coming from districts and taking my sock off and seeing this black baseball on my foot. Oh well, it’s what you work for, you have to expect stuff like that to happen.”
Witt went 18-15 last year, but her win-loss record doesn’t tell the story of the type of season she had. Playing for Magnificat, one of the top tennis programs in the area, she routinely faces the No. 1 players from the best teams in the state.
As for the Blue Streaks’ success, they’ve finished third in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team tournament the past two seasons.
“As long as I’m playing my best tennis and playing my game, I’ll be happy, regardless of the outcome,” Witt said. “We always have a tough schedule. I know for a couple weeks last season, it seemed like there was a match every night against the really top schools with great first singles players. It was definitely a grind, and I know I had a lot of losses, but I’m definitely not looking at numbers.
“When you play against top first singles players from Columbus and all over the state, it can be mentally and physically draining, but those are the types of matches that make you better. I would rather have tough losses than have a 28-0 record against girls that aren’t that good. When I walk off the court, if I left everything I had on the court, that’s what I can be satisfied with.”
Improving her finish at state the last two years – and doing so on a bum ankle last season — has only raised her own expectations.
“I’m glad that, if I had to lose to anyone at state, I lost to the girl who won it all,” Witt said. “It was a great, competitive match. We had played each other a lot over the last three seasons. Winning that first match and getting to the quarterfinals was indescribable and something I’ll never forget.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, for sure. I’m just excited to try to get back there for the third time and hopefully go home with a trophy.”
Witt also has her sights set on winning the first sectional and district titles of her career.
“But that’s a long way away, and I have to focus right now on my regular season,” Witt said. “If I play my game, that kind of stuff will take care of itself. It would be nice to add some firsts to my collection of seconds, but I’ll start worrying about that when sectionals begin.”