OBERLIN — If Emily Witt is going to make her third straight trip to the Division I state tennis tournament in Columbus next weekend she’ll have to do something she’s never done before: Win a do-or-die match Saturday morning.
Magnificat’s Witt, a Grafton resident, and Avon Lake senior Erin Hrivnak are in the same boat and just trying to stay afloat following Thursday’s first day of the Division I Northeast district tournament at Oberlin College. While they won their first-round matches, they’ll have to win consolation semifinal matches Saturday morning, beginning at 9 a.m., if they want to end their high school careers on the grand stage.
The Westlake doubles team of Julia Dunbar and Lyndsey Golick, and Magnificat junior Lauren O’Malley, a Westlake resident, don’t have those worries, having qualified to state with 2-0 performances Thursday.
Avon’s doubles team of Annie DeLuca and Riley Monroe was eliminated in the first round.
Witt, who began her day with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Aurora’s Taylor Miotke, waged a tough, three-hour battle with Massillon Jackson junior Tessa Hill, the Canton sectional champion. Hill defeated Witt 6-2, 6-1 in last year’s district semifinal.
This year, Witt gave Hill everything she could want and more. Matching one another point-for-point and sometimes even shot-for-shot, the foes had to bring their coaches on to serve as line judges because they openly debated every close call.
Both sets went to tiebreakers. In the end, Hill won 7-6 (7-0), 7-6 (7-4) to advance to state for the second consecutive year.
“I’m happy because I think I played my best today,” said Witt, who lost for the first time in a district quarterfinal. “She’s a really great player and it was close all the way to the end. It was a lot of back-and-forth. I’d win some then she’d win some. It was a really good match, so I can’t complain. That third set would have been a grind, that’s for sure.
“She wiped me off the court last year for seeding for state, so it’s definitely an improvement. I know I’m right there. When you lose a match in two tiebreakers, you know you’re one or two big points away from doing something special.”
Witt will have to defeat Kenston’s Tasha Birze, the Solon sectional champion. The top six finishers in singles and doubles make state.
“Every time I’m at districts, I know I have to play each point to the best of my ability,” Witt said. “In the past two years, I’ve had some good wins here, but I think Tessa’s the toughest player in the whole draw — definitely the toughest one I’ve faced in the second round ever.
“I just have to really focus and get ready for Saturday. I beat (Birze) earlier this year, but I can’t look at that. Saturday’s a new day.”
Hrivnak defeated Uniontown Lake’s Katherine McCauley, the Canton runner-up, 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the quarterfinals. She gave Walsh Jesuit’s Molly Sandberg, one of the top-seeded players in the state, all she could handle before losing 6-4, 6-2.
Hrivnak took a 4-3 lead in the first set before Sandburg reeled off three straight games to take the first set. She carried that momentum over to the second set to move on to state.
“It’s always the goal to win both matches, but I’m happy,” Hrivnak said. “She’s a really tough player. With the way she was seeded, I knew going into the match I was the underdog. I went out and gave it everything I could.”
Hrivnak will have to defeat Mayfield’s Jamie Vizelman to become Avon Lake’s first state qualifier since Nikki Chiricosta in 2009.
“I know Jamie and Lauren very well from USTA,” Hrivnak said. “We kind of grew up together playing tournaments. I know either one will be a tough match because they’re both very good players.”
Vizelman, who played one of the longest matches of the day — a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 first-round win over Hudson’s Kati Mdzinarishvili that lasted three hours and 55 minutes — lost to O’Malley in a tough quarterfinal match.
O’Malley, battling some asthma-related symptoms and a three-hour layover between matches, won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to advance to state for the first time.
“With how I was feeling, I really didn’t want to go to three sets,” O’Malley said. “I’m really excited to be going to state. I’ve been close before, but I finally did it this year.”
O’Malley, the Oberlin sectional champion, will meet Sandburg in a semifinal Saturday. Hill plays Cloverleaf’s Emily Dunbar.
Dunbar and Golick, the Oberlin sectional doubles champs, survived a tough 6-4, 6-3 first-round match with Massillon Jackson’s Maria Thomas and Emma Schoeppner before advancing to the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Walsh Jesuit’s Paige Carmichael and Caroline Dickinson.
Golick, the younger sister of past state champion Lauren Golick, was thrilled to be making her first trip to state.
The Westlake duo will meet North Canton Hoover’s Natalie and Nicolette Bourlas in one of the semifinals Saturday.
“I feel like we have a pretty good shot,” Dunbar said of winning the district title. “We communicate really well. We keep the ball in play, which is always good. We’ve just got to keep moving forward one match at a time and one point at a time, and hopefully we land the top seed for state when it’s all done.”
(Top six advance to state)
Semifinals: Tessa Hill (Massillon Jackson) vs. Emily Dunbar (Cloverleaf); Lauren O’Malley (Magnificat) vs. Molly Sandburg (Walsh Jesuit). Consolation Semifinals: Emily Witt (Magnificat) vs. Tasha Birze (Kenston); Jamie Vizelman (Mayfield) vs. Erin Hrivnak (Avon Lake). Championship: Semifinal winners. Third-Place: Semifinal losers. Fifth-Place: Consolation semifinal winners.
Semifinals: Abby Warburton-Alivia Arnold (North Canton Hoover) vs. Hannah Cianciola-Ashley Kallel (Canfield); Lyndsey Golick-Julia Dunbar (Westlake) vs. Natalie Bourlas-Nicolette Bourlas (North Canton Hoover). Consolation Semifinals: Alex Riegelsberger-Lucy Grierson (Rocky River) vs. Tinisee Kandakai-Monika Bandi (Solon); Paige Carmichael-Caroline Dickerson (Walsh Jesuit) vs. Emily Hissong-Gina Costanzo (Walsh Jesuit). Championship: Semifinal winners. Third-Place: Semifinal losers. Fifth-Place: Consolation semifinal winners.