- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Leonardtown Raiders senior Ashley Lytle walked off the tennis courts at North Point High School on Saturday afternoon smiling, hands on her cheeks in amazement, but never letting her smile go.
After received hugs, congratulations, taking pictures and receiving her medal, the smile was still there.
Lytle finished as a runner-up in last year’s Southern Maryland Athletic Conference tennis tournament. After finishing this SMAC regular season with only one loss, Lytle was able to avenge her second-place finish and her only senior-season loss with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Patuxent’s Sarah Nepini in the girls singles championship.
Nepini defeated Lytle in the regular season for Lytle’s lone loss.
Lytle and boys singles SMAC champion Robert Renfrow were key pieces in helping the Raiders win their second-straight SMAC championship title.
“I am very excited that I won,” Lytle said. “It’s just a great way to end my senior year. All through [Friday] I just kept picturing myself winning, but I just needed to come out here and do it. Now that I did, I’m just so happy.”
Head coach Adam Cropper also watched as his entire Leonardtown starting lineup, consisting of nine teams total, advanced to the Region IV tournament as the top six finishers in each classification advanced. Day 1 of the region tournament is scheduled for Thursday at North Point, with Day 2 on Saturday at Annapolis.
“They are a bunch of good kids and they are talented,” Cropper said of his team. “They work hard and their work ethic is what it is. Their work ethic is what’s important.”
Renfrow has not lost a match this season and dropped only one game through the SMAC tournament as he and Lytle walk into the Region IV tournament with confidence held high.
“It feels great,” Renfrow said of his tournament. “The fact that our team won definitely makes it more special.”
Cropper added, “This definitely gives them a lot of confidence. When you go to regionals now, the entire game is raised. They are hitting their best and you’re hitting your best and you don’t know what’s up there. You know your competition here [within SMAC] … but up there, you don’t know.”
The Leonardtown girls duo of Sarah Shaw and Leigh Laurel placed second overall and Ruthie Hornbuckle (girls singles), Madison Ellis and Grace White (girls doubles) and Brent Bohanan and Michael Johnson (boys doubles) each placed third overall. Trey Burgen (boys singles) was fourth.
Asked midway through the final round what a SMAC tournament would mean, Lytle added, “That would just make it all worthwhile. Winning the SMAC tournament would make everything that much better. It’s a young team, so I have great confidence that they can come out here in the next few years and do the same thing.”
Hornets over Hornets
In the boys doubles championship, the eventual Great Mills championship duo of Billy Clark and Juha Ellonen defeated their Great Mills counterparts Alex Klapka and Robert Bishop, 6-3, 6-2.
“We’re all friends and it’s pretty special to have four of our boys in the conference championship,” Clark said. “We played a great match overall. They played well, we played well and we were just trying to move on to regionals.”
Ellonen added on the strange circumstance, “Of course it’s very special, but also very weird. We won but feel bad for them because they lost. It was a pretty weird situation.”
Great Mills’ Lydia Browne and Kristie Holland won the girls doubles championship over Laurel and Shaw after dropping the first set.
“It feels good,” Browne said of the title. “I am extremely tired, but I think we played a really good game. We played against a great team that had strong hits and they knew what they were doing.”
Holland appreciated being a SMAC champion but appreciated it more due to the fact that they defeated a Leonardtown duo that went undefeated in conference play.
“It doesn’t feel any better than to win against a good team,” Holland added. “We had to fight for the win and that’s what is important.”
‘Canes coming together
Singles players all through the season, the Huntingtown duo of Tyler Collins and Rachel Land came together after the regular season and proved to come together well by winning the mixed doubles SMAC championship over the Great Mills duo of Caleb Fahrner and Dani Gorman, last year’s Region IV champions.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Collins said of the SMAC title.
The Huntingtown connection won the first set 7-5, but dropped the second set before proceeding to win the third set 6-2.
Land added on the title, “It feels great.”
Despite coming together not long before the SMAC tournament, the duo admitted that it has taken more than just talent to come together and come together successfully.
“We put in a lot of extra time after practice, just playing together and getting used to how we play and work as a team,” Collins said. “So, I think had we not done that, it would have been really hard for us.”
Land added, “I think we can read each other really well. We’re a good team.”
Huntingtown’s Josh Levitas (boys singles) placed third overall after picking up a win via injury default over Burgen.
In the boys singles semifinal, Northern’s John Niswander, the eventual SMAC runner-up, played in what many spectators and coaches watching called, “the longest match I’ve ever seen.”
In his semifinal contest that started at 9 a.m. against Burgen, Niswander survived triple-match point in the third set tiebreak and another match point to win and walked off the court at 1:05 p.m., surviving a 4 hour 5 minute match.
“That was the longest match I have ever seen or been a part of,” Niswander said. “I just had to take it one ball at a time and one point at a time and keep grinding.”
Niswander admitted that mentally, he was happy that he could pull through, but physically, he felt a much different way.
“Physically, my legs are hurting, my feet are hurting, but I am playing a great competitor in the finals,” he said.
Nepini (girls singles) placed second overall after playing to an undefeated season in her sophomore campaign.
The Lackey Chargers mixed doubles duo of Amber Heffner and Garrett Welch placed fourth overall in the SMAC title but punched their ticket to the Region IV tournament.
Despite only playing together a small number of times, the two were successful due in large part to their long-term friendship.
“We’ve known each other for eight years, went to middle school and now high school together,” Welch said of the two’s partnership. “We work together, never argue and we can read each other.”
Heffner and Welch will both make their region debuts.
“I am super excited and this is my first year going this far,” Heffner said.
Welch added, “I am really excited. This is my first time going and this is my third year playing so I am really excited.”
La Plata’s Carolyn Marsh also advanced to the Region IV tournament.
SMAC tennis tournament results
1. Leonardtown 29, 2. Great Mills 22, 3. Northern 15, 4. Huntingtown 14, 5. Patuxent 13, 6. La Plata 9, T-7. Lackey 7, T-7. Thomas Stone 7, 9. Chopticon 6, T-10. Calvert 5, T-10. North Point 5, T-10. Westlake 5, 13. McDonough 1
Boys singles: Renfrow (L) def. Niswander (N), 6-0, 6-0
Girls singles: Lytle (L) def. Nepini(P), 6-3, 6-3
Boys doubles: Clark/Ellonen (GM) def. Klapka/Bishop (GM), 6-3, 6-2
Girls doubles: Browne/Holland (GM) def. Shaw/Laurel (L), 3-7, 6-2, 6-2
Mixed doubles: Land/Collins (H) def. Gorman/Fahrner (GM), 7-5, 2-6, 6-4