Throughout the postseason, Maddie Kobelt and Meghan Buell, along with New Albany High School girls tennis coach Tim O'Haver, insisted they didn't set the state championship as a goal.
Even after Kobelt and Buell rolled to convincing wins in the finals at the Division I sectional tournament on Oct. 10 and the district tournament on Oct. 17, the Eagles' doubles pair stuck to their "one match at a time" approach.
Last Friday and Saturday at Elysium Indoor Tennis Center in Plain City, the alternate rain location for the state tournament, the Eagles proved that their strategy of not focusing on a state title was exactly the way to win one. Kobelt and Buell won four consecutive two-set matches at state, culminating with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Carolyn Pitman and Taylor Holden of Liberty Township Lakota East in the final last Saturday.
"We weren't like, 'Oh, my gosh, we have to win,'" Kobelt said. "We just took every point one at a time, every game one at a time. It kind of kept us calm. It didn't make us overreact if we were down in a set."
Actually, the Eagles rarely faced any situations where they trailed in a set. At state, no opposing team won more than two games in any set.
"Every player that comes to this tournament dreams of winning it all," O'Haver said. "I wouldn't expect anything less from any player who makes it this far. But I find that the most effective approach is to move toward that goal one step at a time. In the very last game, I asked them to clear their mind of everything except whatever they had to do next to execute the shot they needed to hit."
Last Friday, Kobelt and Buell opened the tournament by beating Maria Feddrix and Hannah Shiekh of Rocky River Magnificat 6-1, 6-1. They rolled past Kelly Dennis and Sandy Niehaus of Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame 6-1, 6-2 in the second round. In the semifinals last Saturday, the Eagles easily handled Ashleigh Witte and Tori Turner of West Chester Lakota West 6-0, 6-1 to advance to the final.
In the final, Kobelt and Buell fell behind 2-1 in the first set, but they quickly gained control by relentlessly pressuring the net and putting away volley winners. Kobelt and Buell won eight consecutive games and built a 3-0 lead in the second set before Pitman and Holden cut the score to 3-2. Kobelt and Buell then responded by pulling out the final three games to clinch the title.
The Eagles ability to get both players to the net consistently was a big factor in their state championship run.
"We try to do that in every match from the very beginning," Buell said. "In doubles, you go to the net to win the point."
Looking ahead to next season, New Albany loses two seniors. Kobelt was a four-year starter at first singles and a three-time state qualifier. And senior Lexi Davis was a three-year starter at second doubles.
The Eagles used two varsity teams this season. From the A team, the Eagles expect to return Buell, along with junior Dionne Wu, sophomores Kylie Hess and Alyssa Setnar and freshman Christina Di Lorenzo. Hess and Setnar played first doubles throughout the year and reached a quarterfinal at district. Di Lorenzo played third singles and advanced to district. Wu is a three-year letterwinner and played second doubles.
O'Haver said despite the loss of Kobelt, the New Albany program should be deep enough to maintain its level of success next season.
"Our goal is always to have the best possible team that we can have, and that's bigger than any one person," O'Haver said. "That requires depth. In competitive tennis in central Ohio, you need that depth to have a successful team. That is our goal. We recognize now that there isn't any one player that is going to replace Maddie next year. It has to be a collective effort."
At a glance
•Record: 15-3 overall, 6-0, 62 points (first) in OCC-Capital
•Seniors lost: Lexi Davis and Maddie Kobelt
•Key returnees: Meghan Buell, Christ-ina Di Lorenzo, Kylie Hess, Alyssa Setnar and Dionne Wu