Thai cousins earn first state title for Bradley
Hilliard Bradley High School girls tennis coach Ben Lilly waited for sophomores Lauren Thai and Ashley Thai to have a letdown last weekend at the Division II state tournament.
It never happened.
The Thais became Bradley's first state champions in any sport, defeating Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's Dominique Baxter and Kassie Faugno 6-0, 6-2 in the doubles championship match last Saturday at Hilliard Davidson.
"I never would've guessed they'd take the first set 6-0 in the state finals," Lilly said. "They had played so well and sometimes you can have that little letdown. I was really proud of the girls that they kept their focus."
"I thought we had things under control after that first set, but I was trying not to think we had it under wraps because we had the whole second set to go," Ashley said. "The last couple of points (of the second set) I was so nervous because I knew everything was on the line."
The Thai cousins, who were the youngest doubles team in the Division II tournament, handled the state final like they did the rest of the tournament.
They defeated Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown's Pauline Marting and Maya Ahuja 6-0, 6-0 in the first round and Lexington's Elise Betscher and Alisha Angle 6-3, 6-3 in a quarterfinal last Friday at Ohio State. They then defeated Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit's Cristin Reed and Katelyn Hissong 7-5, 6-3 in a semifinal last Saturday before beating Baxter and Faugno.
The Thais became Hilliard's first girls tennis state champions since Darby's Kavitha Tipirneni won the Division I state singles title in 1998. Both the Thais and Tipirneni won the state championship in their school's second year.
"This is a great accomplishment for us," Lauren said. "We worked hard, we were positive and stayed focused. We knew if we played our game and dominated the net, we could win it all."
The Thais' performance was just part of a busy weekend for the Jaguars, who also placed fourth in the Division II OTCA state team tournament last Sunday at Davidson. Bradley, which was ranked fourth in the state poll, lost to Dayton Oakwood 3-2 in a semifinal before falling to Chagrin Falls 3-1 in the consolation final.
Oakwood placed second, losing to Lexington 3-2 in the championship.
Next season, Bradley will have to replace seniors Emily Boyd, Selina Clubbs, Rina Kambouris, Deanna Norwood and Jordyn Oliver, the program's first graduates since the school opened last fall. Clubbs and sophomore Christy Showalter placed second at first doubles at the OCC-Capital Division tournament that concluded on Oct. 12.
"They meant a lot to us," Lilly said of the seniors. "They showed the underclassmen the way it was to be done."
However, the Jaguars should have a solid team coming back. In addition to the Thais, juniors Abbie McGuire and Jill Runser, sophomores Kaylee Bushee and Showalter and freshman Taylor Ruby are expected to return.
Runser won her second league championship, defeating New Albany's Carol Vitellas 6-3, 6-3 at third singles to help Bradley clinch the OCC-Capital title.
Bradley went 6-1 in OCC-Capital duals but finished the league tournament with 66 points to finish ahead of New Albany (7-0, 64), Olentangy Orange (5-2, 48), Big Walnut (4-3, 33), Delaware (3-4, 28), Watkins Memorial (2-5, 12), Mount Vernon (1-6, 8) and Franklin Heights (0-7, 4).
At the league tournament, Lauren defeated Orange's Anna Sanford 6-3, 6-2 in the final at first singles and Ashley defeated New Albany's Kylie Hess 6-0, 6-1 in the final at second singles.
"Next year will be an exciting step for us," Lilly said. "We'll be moving up to Division I, so we will have to contend with Dublin Jerome, Upper Arlington and New Albany (in the postseason). It's going to be nice to move up and play some of those guys."
At a glance
•Record: 14-7 overall, 6-1 (first) in OCC-Capital
•Seniors lost: Emily Boyd, Selina Clubbs, Rina Kambouris, Deanna Norwood and Jordyn Oliver
•Key returnees: Abbie McGuire, Jill Runser, Ashley Thai and Lauren Thai