Solon senior Maggie Yang was competing for a third straight trip to the big dance, but she’d have to punch her ticket with a freshman partner during the Division I Northeast District tennis tournament last Thursday and Saturday in Akron.
Rookie Niya Fried did not disappoint, as the Lady Comet tandem went 3-1 in the doubles bracket to finish fifth and secure one of six spots out of the district tournament held at the Springside Racquet and Fitness Club.
Yang and Fried are just one of two senior-freshman duos who will compete in the 44th annual Division I state tournament this Friday and Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, just northeast of Cincinnati.
“It’s really exciting,” Yang said. “Niya and I have been friends for a good bit, so it feels really nice that I get to share this great experience with her, even when she’s just starting as a freshman and I’m finishing my four years as a senior now.”
Facing a win-or-go-home opening match against Magnificat senior Grace Bauer and junior Elizabeth Coyne last Thursday, Yang and Fried put together a 6-0, 6-0 skunking to secure at least two more matches in district play.
Bauer and Coyne were the Lady Blue Streaks’ second doubles team at the tournament, and so Yang and Fried were favored, but a dominant victory in the first round always eases some nerves.
“We were really confident going in,” Fried said. “Looking at the draw, we thought we were going to do really well. In that first match, after every point, we’d tell each other how good we’re doing.
“And I’ve known (Yang) for a couple years now. So, even though she’s a senior and I’m a freshman, our chemistry is pretty bonded on the court, and we pump each other up. I think that helps.”
In the quarterfinals, Yang and Fried were up against Highland seniors Emily Hadler and Rachel Fannin, who were the sectional champs out of Akron.
Last year, Yang and then-senior partner Alexis Ratner defeated Hadler and Fannin, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, in the third-place match at districts, before Yang and Ratner went one-and-done at states with a three-set loss against the eventual fourth-place team from Mason.
Last Thursday, Yang and Fried owned a 5-2 lead in the opening set against Hadler and Fannin, before losing the match, 7-5, 6-3.
“At first, I think we had a pretty steady game and knew what we were doing,” Yang said. “I’m not exactly sure when the tables began to turn, because we had a pretty solid lead, but, in tennis, there’s no end time. You have to make your own ending, which, unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out.
“But we still made it to states. That’s how it was supposed to go.”
Yang and Fried had a day to regroup before resuming action in a go-to match against Magnificat’s No. 1 doubles team of sophomore Lexi Ospelt and freshman Caroline Moritz, who were sectional champs out of Oberlin.
“We knew we had to focus on the games in particular when Niya was serving and I was at the net,” Yang said. “This year, Niya proved to be the stronger net player, and I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain (against Hadler and Fannin). So, we just focused on me trying to be a lot more aggressive at the net, which I think we did well.”
Yang and former partner Ratner knocked Magnificat’s Ospelt and her former partner out of the district tournament last year.
With a state berth on the line Saturday, Yang and Fried orchestrated a decisive 6-1, 6-4 victory.
“We knew the two girls we were playing, so we knew their strengths and what their weaknesses would be,” Fried said. “We really just tried to focus on that, and the energy was just insanely high. That was such a high-pressure match that we needed to win.
“So, we trusted ourselves, we were confident in ourselves, and that really helped us. And our net play helped us close it out and keep the match under control.”
But to avoid playing a district champion out of southwest Ohio in the opening round of states, Yang and Fried remained focused to move forward and win their fifth-place match against Jackson juniors Emma Henson and Samantha Reese, who were sectional champs out of Canton.
The Lady Comet tandem did not faulter in a 6-2, 6-3 result to end their tournament run on a winning note.
“We capitalized more with our service games,” Yang said. “That was a match where I definitely took over the net a lot more. It definitely shadowed how I played last year in terms of how aggressive I was, because this year I changed sides and had to adapt, and it really came to fruition during that match.”
While Yang and Fried defeated Jackson’s No. 1 doubles team to finish fifth in the district, Jackson’s No. 2 doubles team had a more favorable draw and ended up finishing third.
Yang and Fried will open their state tournament against Dublin Jerome juniors Arya Dudipala and Lalasa Nagireddy, who were the Central District runners-up. Nagireddy, in particular, was a state singles qualifier last year.
The winner of the Solon-Dublin Jerome match on Friday will likely play Mayfield senior Caitlyn Hsu and junior Hannah Kassaie in the quarterfinals. The reigning state runners-up, Hsu and Kassaie cruised their way to a Northeast District title with a 6-1, 6-0 win against Highland’s Hadler and Fannin on Saturday.
“I think we really need to trust ourselves,” Fried said about taking on the best competition in Ohio. “And we should listen to each other if we have some advice so we can really connect and work together.”