Jerome repeats as state champs
The five members of the Dublin Jerome High School girls tennis team who competed in the Division I state tournament didn't have time to feel disappointed after none captured a championship.
After competing Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State and Elysium Tennis Center in Plain City, the Celtics bounced back the following day to win their second consecutive Division I Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team title.
On Oct. 21 at Reynoldsburg, Jerome beat Rocky River Magnificat 3-0 in a state semifinal and Cincinnati Ursuline Academy 3-0 in the final.
"It certainly helped us get rid of any bad taste we had in our mouths to be able to finish our season by winning state as a team," said coach Tyler Stephen, whose squad finished 22-0 overall in dual matches. "I don't even think any of our girls should have had a bad taste in their mouths after the state tournament because they competed well and they just fell a little short of their goals there. But they're a competitive group and it's really nice that we were able to end our season by winning a state championship as a team."
In the state team tournament, the first doubles team of Rhiannon James and Emma Stein went 2-0.
In the semifinal, Caitlyn Merzbacher won at third singles and Ellee Bullock and Maddy Easdale won at second doubles.
In the final, Sarah Stein won at second singles and Bullock and Sophia Gomez won at second doubles.
Lauren Bellinger played first singles against both opponents but didn't get to finish either match because Jerome already had won three of the other courts.
"We knew we are the best team in the state and we proved it," Stephen said. "Sometimes you see teams that have the most talent lose, but our girls handled our expectations well and they never got complacent. We won doubles fairly easily in both matches, and that's a sign of how deep we are."
On Oct. 15, Jerome defeated New Albany 3-1 in an OTCA district final as Merzbacher won at third singles, James and Emma Stein won at first doubles and Bullock and Gomez won at second doubles.
The Celtics also beat New Albany 3-2 during a regular-season match Sept. 21, marking the only time Jerome lost on more than one court in a dual match while going 44-0 overall the past two seasons.
"New Albany is deeper than the Dead Sea and we have a ton of respect for them," Stephen said. "We're more talented than we were when we won state last year, but the competition has improved, too, and New Albany was a dangerous team. We went into all three of these matches knowing that we had to play our best tennis, and the way we came together as a team is completely unmatched."
The Stein sisters went 3-1 and finished second in doubles at state, marking the third consecutive year Sarah Stein has reached a Division I state final.
In 2010, Bellinger and Sarah Stein lost in the state doubles final. Last year, Bellinger and Sarah Stein rallied to defeat Watterson's Lauren Ghidotti and Katie Shepherd 0-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) in the state final to become the first doubles team in state tournament history to bounce back from a 6-0 loss in the first set to win a final.
The Steins opened state with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Cincinnati Sycamore's Alexa Abele and Maggie Skwara before defeating Toledo Notre Dame Academy's Teagan McNamara and Alicia Nahhas 6-0, 6-2.
In a semifinal, the Steins defeated Ghidotti and Shepherd 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7). They lost to New Albany sisters Cristina and Francesca DiLorenzo 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the final.
"The semifinal was a very crazy, emotional match because those four girls know each other so well," Stephen said. "Sarah and Emma just did a great job of staying positive and confident even after Watterson came back from 6-3 to tie it at 7-all in the tiebreaker. The Steins played really well against New Albany, too, but the DiLorenzos just played the big points a little better."
Bullock and Merzbacher went 2-2 and finished fourth in doubles.
They opened with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Chagrin Falls Kenston's Natasha Birze and Amanda Marchant and beat Liberty Township Lakota East's Taylor Holden and Maddy Mueck 6-2, 7-5 in the second round.
In a semifinal, Bullock and Merzbacher lost to the DiLorenzos 6-0, 6-2. They lost to Ghidotti and Shepherd 7-5, 6-3 in the consolation final.
"Caitlyn and Ellee played really well, too, especially considering they are a sophomore and a freshman," Stephen said.
Bellinger went 1-1 in singles, beating Canfield's Allison Pavlansky 6-0, 6-4 and losing to defending state champion Sandy Niehaus 1-6, 6-1, 6-2.
"It was nerve-wracking playing singles at state, but I'm glad I gave it a try," Bellinger said. "Finishing up my senior year winning the state team title was exciting and it's special."
Tan enjoys state debut
Coffman freshman Ashley Tan lost to Sylvania Northview's Megan Miller 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Division I state tournament.
"It was a very positive and exciting experience," she said. "I played OK, but I know I could have done better.
"I think I had a great season and I had tons of fun. I plan on working on my weaknesses so I can come back better next year."