Isis and Kyah Thomas of the Pickerington High School Central girls tennis team felt at times during their third-place match in the Division I state tournament Oct. 19 as if they saw themselves on the other side of the net.
After benefiting from some unforced errors to defeat Toledo Notre Dame Academy's Alicia Nahhas and Teagan McNamara 6-2 in the first set at Elysium Tennis Center, the tide turned in the second set with a 3-6 loss. Luckily for the Thomases, both juniors, they regained form in time to win the third set 6-4 and close their season on a high note.
"We just kept up our pace," said Isis Thomas, who like her sister played singles during the regular season before they teamed for the postseason. "We put up some high balls and some sliced low balls that threw them off and kept them out of their comfort zone."
On the heels of winning a sectional title and a runner-up finish at district, the Thomases were 10-2 in the postseason. At state, they defeated Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit's Gina Costanzo and Emily Hissong 6-2, 6-2 in the first round and North Canton Hoover's Alivia Arnold and Abby Warburton 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the second before losing to eventual state runners-up Alexa Abele and Maggie Skwara of Cincinnati Sycamore 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 in a semifinal.
It was the first trip to state for each of the sisters, and the school's best postseason finish since Cindy Ziegler was Class AAA runner-up for then-Pickerington in 1986.
"We'll take third. There are a lot of players out there who would love to be on these courts on the last day," Tigers coach Kelli Rings said. "It was all about getting their composure back. The talent they have never leaves."
Kyah Thomas said the sibling relationship was the key to their postseason success.
"I know how to pump her up," Kyah said. "I know by her actions and attitude when she's getting down, so I can quickly adjust and bring her back up so it's not a downhill spiral. We might be down for a little bit, but then we're right back up."
Central was 7-0 with 42 points to win the OCC-Ohio Division, ahead of Gahanna (34, 6-1), Reynoldsburg (22, 5-2), Pickerington North (27, 4-3), Lancaster (19, 3-4), Newark (10, 2-5), Grove City (9, 1-6) and Groveport (5, 0-7). The Tigers finished fourth (8) in the OCC's first-place tournament Sept. 28, behind Dublin Jerome (17), Upper Arlington (13) and New Albany (12).
In singles play in the Tigers' home sectional Oct. 3 and 5, junior Nikkia Thompson was 2-1 and senior Audrey Covert and junior Patricia Ladipo each went 0-1 in singles.
Freshman Maddie Bechert and junior Madi Schott finished fourth in doubles at sectional and advanced to district Oct. 11 and 12 at Hilliard Davidson, where they went 0-1.
The Tigers lose Covert, Peyton Klein and Nithya Raya to graduation. Klein played doubles with Schott but missed the postseason because of an injury.
"It should be another fun year next year," Rings said. "We have a lot of talent coming back."
Panthers lose one senior
North coach Brian Hoff expects to return everyone except senior Rachel Sorensen from a team that went 10-8 overall.
The doubles team of sophomore Madison Cruse and junior Mykayla Hagaman helped pace the Panthers, along with the doubles team of junior Shaili Kothari and sophomore Julia Robson.
"(Cruse and Hagaman) were a pleasant surprise this season," Hoff said. "We could count on them to give us a solid performance every time they played together. Julia Robson and Shaili Kothari really started to play quality doubles together in the last part of the season. Their games and personalities meshed well together on the court."
North finished second (15) in the OCC's fourth-place tournament Sept. 28, behind Davidson (18) and ahead of Hilliard Darby (11) and Big Walnut (8).
No Panthers advanced beyond the Davidson sectional. Kothari was 2-1 in singles and fell one win shy of qualifying for district. Freshman Shivani Kothari and Robson each went 1-1, as did Cruse and Hagaman. Junior Maddie Schroeder and senior Rachel Sorensen lost their first-round doubles match.
"We had eight girls who were very similar in talent and ability and we used numerous lineups throughout the season," Hoff said. "With seven girls hopefully returning next year, the future looks bright. If the girls work hard in the offseason to improve their games, we have the potential to have a very good season next year. Our goal certainly is get back to being one of the top five to 10 teams in central Ohio."