Upper Arlington High School junior Niki Flower no longer is in the shadow of her older sister, Kirsten, a 2006 UA graduate who was the Division I state tennis champion in singles in 2003 after winning the title in doubles with Christine Johnston in 2002.
Flower now has a state championship of her own, as she defeated Cincinnati Ursuline Academy's Komal Safdar 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 in the Division I state singles championship match last Saturday at Elysium Tennis Facility in Plain City to capture her first state title.
"I'm so overwhelmed right now," said Flower, who is central Ohio's 18th singles champion in Division I or II since 1976. "I wanted this so badly. This probably meant more to me than breathing."
Flower, who placed second at state last year in doubles with graduate Stacey Cox, was one of five UA players to qualify for state.
The doubles teams of seniors Kara Richardson and Paige Murphy and sophomore Caroline Pema and freshman Elaine Cloern both lost in the first round.
Flower is the third UA player to win a state singles title, as Liz Alexander also won in 1983.
Flower also became the third member of her family to win a state championship, joining her sister and her father, Jim, who won the AAA state singles title for Fremont Ross in 1974.
Flower said Kirsten, who now plays at Ohio State, was supportive of her bid for the state title.
"Kirsten wanted me to do well," she said. "She wrote me a nice note and actually gave me the skirt (that she wore when she won the state title). She's been really nice to me lately. Well, she's been nicer than usual."
Flower lost a total of eight games in the first three rounds of the tournament, defeating Clayton Northmont's Marianne Bonanno 6-1, 6-0, Akron Firestone's Christine Coffman 6-3, 6-0 in a quarterfinal and Rocky River Magnificat's Stephanie Hollis 6-3, 6-1 in a semifinal.
Flower knew she was in for a battle against Safdar, who is a three-time state qualifier. Flower said she was 4-0 against Safdar in the club competition, but the two split sets in most of the matches.
"Komal plays differently than most girls," said Flower, who led 3-0 in the first set before having to battle through a tiebreaker. "Most girls like to hang back on the base line. She has an aggressive net game and a big serve. I knew I needed to keep my cool and not let (the pressure) bother me."
Murphy and Richardson lost to Rocky River Magnificat's Allie Wasilko and Noelle Kaufmann 6-4, 6-3 and Cloern and Pema lost to Richfield Revere's Natalie Robson and Brittany Miller 6-4, 6-2.
Murphy and Richardson also lost in the first round last season.
"We beat ourselves," Richardson said. "It was very disappointing. Last year we made it to states. This year we wanted something more."
"Wasilko and Kaufmann were very solid players," Murphy added. "They had good ground strokes and kept us hitting more balls back."
The cross-court shots of Miller and Robson spoiled the state debut of Cloern and Pema.
"They had some really good cross-court shots that we tried to take away by lining up right across from the person at the net," Pema said. "We just want to come back here next year and do better."
"It was just a great accomplishment just getting here," Cloern added. "It was upsetting to lose, but we'll get back here next year."