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Willard tops Norwalk in battle of SBC champs

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 2, 2018 at 9:47 PM

NORWALK — Ultimately, it was just a non-league match days before the state tournament trail begins.

But having already been postponed twice, it also meant Tuesday’s girls tennis matchup was Sandusky Bay Conference Bay champion Willard facing SBC Lake champion Norwalk at the Middle School courts in Norwalk.

The two teams entered with a combined 33-3 record — which also included a perfect 28-0 in league matches.

But with Thursday’s sectional championships looming, both programs put their tournament lineup on the courts. Willard (16-2) swept all three singles positions en route to the 4-1 win over the host Truckers (18-2).

“We’re old rivals from the Northern Ohio League and Norwalk is a program that is well-respected,” Willard coach Josh Bauerle said. “Growing up, they were the team to beat and somehow when I came back to coaching — they were still the team to beat. I have a great deal of respect for their coaching staff, and they are kind of how we modeled building our program off of as well.”

The two teams also finished 1-2 at the Norwalk and Willard doubles tournaments, with the Truckers claiming the title at both. Each of those tournaments were also played at Norwalk, just like Tuesday’s match.

“I love playing them and I think they like playing us,” Bauerle said. “We wanted to keep that tradition going, but it definitely added intrigue when it’s champion vs. champion like today. We got a little bit of an underdog, chip on our shoulder since we’re the smaller division.

“We definitely wanted to play up, and the cool thing is it’s a good test two days before sectionals — and we both decided to play our sectional lineups,” he added. “We got our first doubles team to go against what is the No. 1 seed in their sectional, so it’s great competition there and that worked out great.”

At first singles, Willard’s Carlee Gibson topped Gabby Horowitz in three sets, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. Second singles saw Addy Paxton sweep Norwalk’s Alexa Moore (6-0, 6-0), while Willard’s Tori Barnett topped Lauren Metcalf at third singles (7-6 (6), 6-3).

Barnett led 4-1 in the first set, then trailed 5-4 before rallying to win in tie-break fashion.

“I think it was really good preparations for seeing other singles players, because I’ve been playing doubles for six months now,” Barnett said. “We start in May and it’s constant work, and I’ve had one day of practice in singles, so this was really good prep today.

“It was really cool because we came up here all throughout the summer to play against them, then at the two doubles tournaments and now today,” she added. “It really helps because a lot of our league matches we weren’t tested like you get tested against Norwalk. So it’s really good practice to play them, because win or lose you know it’s good play.”

Added Bauerle, “That was a huge match for us at third singles, just because Tori never practices, yet alone plays singles.”

Norwalk’s win came at first doubles, where traditional No. 1 singles player Megan Berry teamed up with Jordan Gran to top Willard’s Addie Slone and Jo Brubaker (6-4, 7-5). Willard’s No. 1 singles standout, Emma Moll, then paired with Kennedy Daub at second doubles to beat Sela and Mara Berry (6-4, 6-1).

“Both us and Willard made strides throughout the season by playing each other, so it was kind of neat that it just so happened that our last match was a dual of SBC championship teams,” Norwalk coach Chris Higgins said. “That is two years in a row that we gave Willard a run for their money, but came up short. Both teams gained valuable experience as we got ready for sectionals.”

Higgins talked about his team’s individual performances on Tuesday.

“Gabby played extremely well at the beginning of the match, but came up short, as Carlee was more consistent,” he said. “Alexa was unable to get anything going against Addy, who has been super strong at third singles for Willard all year. Lauren was down in both sets, but found the magic to stay in both sets.

“Jordan and Megan won a match that saw a lot of high level play from both teams,” Higgins added. “Sela and Mara, after a close first set, were unable to keep up. It has been a great season for us, as we really stepped up this season in many different matches including an SBC title. Our seniors, Sela and Jordan, have represented the tennis program extremely well these last four years.”

Norwalk heads to Fremont for Div. I sectional competition on Thursday, while Willard heads to Shelby for Div. II action.

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