The defending state champion took fifth, and a player who was third at the previous week’s sectional tournament ended up with the title.

That’s just a reflection of the top-tier depth in singles play during the Division II Northeast District girls tennis tournament on Friday and Saturday at the Springside Racquet and Fitness Club in Akron.

Gilmour Academy senior Carly Cohen had the hot racket, defeating Hathaway Brown senior and two-time defending state champion Nicole Gillinov, 7-5, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, before going on to avenge her previous week’s sectional loss against Orange senior Blessing Nwaozuzu with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 win in the semifinals.

Cohen then captured her first district singles title by way of a 6-3, 6-1 victory against West Geauga sophomore Rylie Hanford, who was the district champ a year ago.

Cohen will return to the state tournament for the first time since her freshman season, when she and then-senior partner Claudia Althans finished Division II runners-up in the 2016 doubles tournament.

In 2017, Cohen lost a go-to, fifth-place singles match against HB’s Gillinov, 6-3, 7-5, before Gillinov went to win the Division II state title.

In fact, this is the third straight year that Gillinov finished fifth in district play – she went on to win the state title the past two years.

In 2017, Orange then-sophomore Blessing Nwaozuzu defeated Gillinov in district quarterfinals action, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In 2018, Hawken then-senior Stephanie Shulman defeated Gillinov in district quarterfinals action, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

And this year, Cohen upset the two-time defending state champ in the quarterfinals.

That said, Eaton freshman Macy Hitchcock, the champion out of the Southwest District, might be in for a bit of a shock when she has to open her first state tournament against Gillinov on Friday morning at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, just northeast of Cincinnati.

Gilmour’s Cohen, meanwhile, will open her state tournament run against Napoleon senior Aliza Lankenau, who was a state quarter finalist last year, before getting skunked, 6-0, 6-0, against Gillinov.

Cohen and Gillinov could meet again for a rematch in the state semifinals.

Meanwhile, West Geauga’s Hanford opened her district tournament last week with a 6-0, 6-0 victory against Hathaway Brown freshman Alice Lin and then punched a repeat ticket to states with a 6-2, 6-1 triumph against Orrville junior Claudia Adcock in the quarterfinals.

“She was a good player,” Hanford said of Adcock. “She was very competitive. I did give away too many errors, more than I’d like, but the second set was more clean, and I played better.

“But she had a very flat, hard serve, and her forehand was definitely her weapon, so just keeping it away and making her play on the run was key to getting her to miss and forcing her to make the errors. So, it was just counter punching and waiting for her to miss.”

In the semifinals, Hanford went on to defeat Orange freshman Alexis Nyborg, 6-3, 6-2, to advance for a repeat appearance in the district title match.

Orange’s Nyborg punched her state ticket by way of a 6-0, 6-2 victory against Lakeview senior Laura Garvin and a 6-4, 6-2 triumph against Hathaway Brown sophomore Olivia Gidlow in the quarterfinals.

West G’s Hanford also defeated Nyborg during the previous week’s sectional tournament, 6-4, 6-4.

“It was pretty close at sectionals, and I think I just learned from the match what I had to do better,” Hanford said of her rematch against Nyborg. “I think she was just trying to perfect her own game, but playing outside helped me more, because she hits the ball flat and not a lot of spin. And then just me perfecting my game and what to do against her helped too.”

In the title match, Gilmour’s Cohen defeated Hanford, 6-3, 6-1.

Cohen also defeated Hanford, 6-2, 6-1, during a regular-season dual on Sept. 24.

“She played very well throughout the whole tournament,” Hanford said of Cohen. “She just played very solid, didn’t give away very many points, laying down a bunch of balls, was always putting one more back in play – I think I made too many more errors. That’s why the result went the way it did.

“I just have to believe in my game and not take so many risks with the ball and just trying to play more high-percentage tennis until I have to go on the offense.”

Hanford will open her second state tournament run against Frankfort Adena freshman Madelyn Shipley. The Lady Wolverine is the lone player in her quarter bracket with state experience, after finishing third during the 2018 championship.

Orange’s Nwaozuzu, meanwhile, will be making her third straight trip to the big dance after finishing fourth at states last year.

Nwaozuzu secured her 2019 ticket with a third-place showing at districts.

The Lady Lion opened her district tournament with a 6-0, 6-0 skunking of Fairview senior Lauryn Leslie and then a 6-1, 6-0 victory against Canton South junior Destiny Winans in the quarterfinals.

“I had some confidence going into it from sectionals,” Nwaozuzu said of her title from the previous week. “So, I just played well that first day and was confident in my game. I was just trying to stay calm and not get into my head too much.”

All four singles players who advanced from the Hawken Sectional were also the top four placers during the district tournament.

In the semifinals, Nwaozuzu took the first set off Gilmour’s Cohen, 6-2, before losing the next two sets, 6-4, 6-1. Nwaozuzu had defeated Cohen in a three-setter the previous week, with the set-by-set outcomes flipped.

“I think our game styles kind of clash,” Nwaozuzu said of the split decisions. “So, at times I’ll be on and I’m the aggressive player, and she’s more of the grinder. She gets a lot of balls back. But it’s really just who’s mentally there that day.

“Early on, I tried to finish a lot of my points at the net, because I knew she was really solid from the baseline. So, I didn’t want to have too many baseline points against her. And then the second set I kind of got in my own head, and that’s when she started to take over and make more balls. But she was just playing well that entire day.”

In the third-place match, Nwaozuzu went on to defeat teammate Nyborg, 6-4, 6-3.

Orange and Toledo Central Catholic are the lone schools sending two singles players to the Division II state tournament.

“It wasn’t really weird,” Nwaozuzu said of playing her teammate in a seed match. “I practice with all the top players from around our area, so, when we play each other in tournaments, we’re all so competitive that it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t look at (Nyborg) as a teammate there, when I’m playing her on the court.”

Nwaozuzu will open her final state hurrah against Dayton Oakwood junior Lily McCloskey, who went one-and-done, 6-2, 6-2, against Hanford last year. The winner between Nwaozuzu and McCloskey will likely play Gahanna Columbus Academy reigning state runner-up junior Syndi Ratliff in the quarterfinals.

Orange’s Nyborg will make her state debut with a match against Toledo Central Catholic junior Ellie Hire, who went one-and-done, 6-1, 6-1, against Hawken’s Shulman last year.

In district doubles action, meanwhile, Laurel School senior Rachel Buchinsky and freshman Ellie Brotherton took home the title with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph against Hathaway Brown senior Melissa Kazazic and junior Brigette Fuentes in the finals match. Buchinsky was a state singles quarterfinalist last season.

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