As much out of frustration as from pain, Madi Schott of the Pickerington High School Central girls tennis team crumpled to the court late in the first-doubles final of the OCC-Ohio Division tournament Sept. 29 at Reynoldsburg.
The sophomore had rolled her left ankle, but the resulting crying served more purposes than just relief. It allowed her to unleash two sets' worth of frustration, and it gave her a few seconds to collect herself.
"I use my anger to keep myself up and doing better," said Schott, who turned 16 that day. "If I'm down, I use my anger as a positive reinforcement. It works well most of the time."
It did that day. Schott and partner Peyton Klein, a junior, outlasted Pickerington North's Melody Liu and Kelsey Weinstein 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) in a match that took almost two hours and completed a perfect day for the Tigers, who won all five courts to clinch their fifth consecutive league championship.
"The thing about (Klein and Schott) is they're better when they're down," Central coach Kelli Rings said. "When the pressure's on, they rise to the occasion. I never doubted at any moment that they'd come back and win this match. They just know when to pick it up and when to get it done. I know when we're down, that's when I'm going to see the best play out of those two."
Sophomore Kyah Thomas cruised by Reynoldsburg's Brittany Condefer 6-0, 6-1 in the first-singles final, junior Nithya Raya beat Gahanna's Emily Merickel 6-1, 6-1 at second singles, sophomore Nikkia Thompson won 6-1, 6-2 against Reynoldsburg's Keisha Cummings at third singles and the Tigers' second-doubles team of senior Allyna Fischbach and junior Audrey Covert edged North's Rachel Sorenson and Rachel Brady 6-3, 6-3 in that final.
"We couldn't have a better ending. To have the season we had and not drop a set along the way (in the league) then gut out some tough matches here ... I don't know of a better way to end it than a tiebreaker in the third set," Rings said. "The girls showed what they're made of. They showed their guts. They showed perseverance."
The Tigers finished 7-0 with 77 points in league play, ahead of Gahanna (5-2, 45), Pickerington North (5-2, 42), Reynoldsburg (4-2, 36), Lancaster (3-4, 34), Grove City (2-5, 17), Newark (1-6, 5) and Groveport (0-6, 3). Reynoldsburg and Groveport were scheduled to make up their league match Oct. 3.
Attention now turns to the Division I sectional tournament, to which Central is playing host along with Hilliard Davidson, Reynoldsburg and Upper Arlington on Thursday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 6. Raya and Thomas are seeded second in doubles, and Klein and Schott are third. Fischbach, Thompson and Covert will play singles.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles in each sectional advance to district Oct. 12 and 13 at Davidson.
"We're going to be a strong team that way, too," said Rings, whose team entered the week with a 14-2 overall record. "All of them have an opportunity to advance. Nikiya and Allyna are actually singles players most of the time. They'll be pretty comfortable. I'm looking for all of them to play some tough matches and see just where it takes them."
North gets jump on postseason
Knowing the OCC-Ohio title was out of reach, Panthers coach Brian Hoff debuted his postseason lineup in the league tournament. Sophomores Shaili Kothari and Emily Robinson placed fifth at first and second singles, respectively, and sophomore Noelle Wilson finished third at third singles.
"All our girls played well. They gave it their all. I couldn't ask for any more than that," said Hoff, whose team entered the week 9-5 overall and will participate in the Reynoldsburg sectional.
"It was a good opportunity. Overall, it really was a good day. Everybody got to play and they played hard and well."