Salisbury tennis wins 2A title
By Bret Strelow
BURLINGTON ó State championship banners adorned the outside of Salisbury’s bus by the time coach Chris Myers reached the Burlington Tennis Center parking lot.
A youth-sized Superman costume hung over the steps as Myers boarded the bus, and he begrudgingly donned a red cape for a picture with his players.
There was no disguising Salisbury’s joy. The Hornets secured their second 2A dual-team title in the last three years by winning 5-1 against Cardinal Gibbons on Saturday morning.
Hannah Lebowitz, Kirstin Meyerhoeffer, Brooke Johnson, Shea Comadoll and Joy Loeblein claimed singles victories against the Crusaders, who lost to Salisbury in the 2006 final.
The Hornets returned four starters from the team that fell 5-4 to Greene Central in last year’s championship match.
“To have been here last year and lose such a heartbreaker, that we could come back this year and win it makes it 100 times better,” said Johnson, who was named the match MVP.
Johnson’s 6-3, 7-5 win against third-seeded Ally Tucker moved Salisbury (23-1) within one victory of its fifth team title, and Loeblein clinched the match with a 6-3, 6-3 decision against fifth-seeded Rachael Lynch-Daniels.
Salisbury players bounded onto the court after the final point ended, but they stopped in their tracks as Loeblein and Lynch-Daniels converged at the net to shake hands. Comadoll led the way once the rush of Loeblein resumed.
“I think we were a lot stronger because of what happened last year, and we didn’t want it to happen again,” said Comadoll, one of the top six’s three seniors. “It’s the worst feeling to lose in the final. It’s always nice to go out with a win in your last match ever.”
Comadoll’s 6-0, 6-1 victory against fourth-seeded Meredith Masteller followed Lebowitz’s 6-0, 6-3 rout of top-seeded freshman Lauren Brooker, the 2A singles champion.
Lebowitz, who teamed with Meyerhoeffer to capture the 2A doubles title, took the first seven games against Brooker.
“I just tried to concentrate on each point, and that helped me get into a rhythm that set the tone for the entire match,” Lebowitz said. “It was definitely one of the better sets I’ve ever played.
“Lauren’s a great player, and I expected her to come back in the second set. I just wanted to make sure I was ready for when she started to really come back.”
Lebowitz’s consistent shot-making and stellar movement frustrated the hard-hitting Brooker, who pulled even at 3-all in the second set before dropping the final three games.
Lebowitz needed little more than an hour to finish off her opponent from Gibbons (19-5).
“Not only was it obviously huge for her to get the point for us, but to win as quickly and decisively as she did, it had to be deflating for the rest of the Gibbons girls to see their state champion come up on the short end,” Myers said.
Meyerhoeffer’s 6-4, 0-6, (11-9) win against second-seeded Casey Perriccio pushed Salisbury ahead 3-0, and Gibbons’ Cori Krause answered with a 6-2, 6-2 victory against sixth-seeded Erika Nelson.
Meyerhoeffer, who prevailed in singles and doubles during last year’s championship round, again emerged as a pivotal player. She won the final three games of the first set against Perriccio, a 2A singles quarterfinalist, and bounced back from a dreadful second set.
“Myers took me out for a little walk before the tiebreaker, and he was like, ‘Look at it this way: It can’t get any worse than the second set,’ ” Meyerhoeffer said with a laugh. “When I play, I think I pick something wrong just to worry about, but he told me I was being frantic. He told me to calm down and hit the ball, and that really helped.”
Tense moments filled the 10-point tiebreaker.
Meyerhoeffer jumped in front 6-3, and Perriccio rallied to force an 8-all tie. An unforced error gave Meyerhoeffer her first match point.
“I tried to be really mentally strong, but I was on the verge of screaming because I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Meyerhoeffer said.
Perriccio won a 26-shot rally to stay alive, but another error gave Meyerhoeffer a 10-9 edge. Her backhand return of a first serve bounced twice on the other side of the net before a lunging Perriccio could put her racket on the ball.
More drama played out one court away, where Johnson established a 5-2 lead in the second set and lost the next three games.
The 11th game of the set went to deuce, and Johnson held serve for a 6-5 advantage. Tucker fell behind 15-40 on her serve and saved two match points before succumbing.
Johnson ó who lost third-set tiebreakers in the last three rounds of last year’s dual-team playoffs ó showcased her talent in a three-set loss to eventual runner-up Amie Cloer during the recent 2A singles tournament.
Johnson often struggled against players who didn’t hit with much pace, and she came out on the short end of a third-set tiebreaker against Brevard on Thursday.
“We thought Cardinal Gibbons would be a whole team of hard hitters, and that’s what I generally like to play against,” Johnson said. “I start warming up, and I have the one girl who is the most steady. Myers and I were both like, ‘Here we go.’
“I was really glad to finish off beating one of those players and ending on that good note. After we won, Myers said, ‘You had my heart racing.’ It wouldn’t be my trademark if I didn’t.”