Flower ready to bloom at state tourney
Bursitis in her right shoulder and tennis elbow forced Upper Arlington High School senior Niki Flower to sit out part of the season.
The injuries left Flower determined to get back to the state tournament and defend her Division I state singles championship.
"It definitely made me hungrier," the Ohio State recruit said. "You see all of these people playing matches and you're thinking 'I want to be out there so badly.'"
Flower, who won her third consecutive district championship last Saturday, heads into the state tournament with a 19-0 record. She plays Massillon Jackson's Trisha Conlan, the sixth-place finisher from the Northeast District. Flower defeated Conlan 6-1, 7-5 in UA's 5-0 win over Jackson on Sept. 18.
The first two rounds of the state tournament are Friday at Ohio State. The semifinals and final are Saturday at Hilliard Davidson.
Since 1999, only two players - Toledo Notre Dame Academy's Neela Vaez (2004 and 2005) and Huber Heights Wayne's Michelle DaCosta (1999 and 2000) - have won a Division I singles title as a junior and returned to win it as a senior.
Flower looked poised to become the third at the district tournament last weekend at Hilliard Davidson. She defeated Lancaster's Monica Allen 6-0, 6-0 and Pickerington Central's Nithya Raya 6-3, 6-0 in the first two rounds last Friday to secure a trip to the state tournament. She then beat New Albany's Meghan Buell, who won the Division I doubles title last year with graduate Maddie Kobelt, 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals, and held off Olentangy Orange's Anna Sanford 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to capture the title last Saturday.
Sanford is the only player to win a set off Flower this year.
"Niki played almost flawless against Buell," UA coach Shaun Stamps said. Flower only made eight unforced errors and had two double faults in the match.
"I do feel a lot of pressure after winning it last year, but I'm definitely focused," Flower said. "All season, I keep thinking 'I have one month left. I have three weeks left.' Now it's down to one week. Once Senior Night came around, it was like 'Oh my gosh, there's no time left.'"
After the Bears qualified six of their seven players for the district tournament, Flower will be the only UA representative at the state tournament this year.
Upper Arlington's Elaine Cloern and Grace Buse, who lost to Watterson's Olivia Ott and Courtney Brown 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and Caroline Pema and Julia Melvin, who lost to Dublin Jerome's Lydia Utkin and Cailey Easdale 6-3, 6-1, were eliminated in the quarterfinals. The doubles teams' exits mark the first time since 2005 the Bears will not be participating in the state doubles tournament.
Also in singles, Adrienne Jenq lost to Olentangy Liberty's Sydney Power 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.
"We didn't play our best and the other teams played really, really well," Stamps said. "We had two big matches this week and I don't think they were used to that. They were so high on the adrenaline and they went down at the wrong time."
UA, ranked third in the Oct. 12 state poll, defeated fifth-ranked Dublin Jerome 3-1 in an Oct. 11 OTCA district semifinal and 10th-ranked New Albany 5-0 in the Oct. 14 final to return to the state team tournament.
The Bears face second-ranked Cincinnati Ursuline in the state semifinals on Sunday at Ohio State. The other semifinal has not been determined with fifth-ranked Hudson and top-ranked Westlake playing for the Northeast district title and Toledo Notre Dame Academy and eighth-ranked Perrysburg battling for the Northwest district title.
"I'm so proud of the girls," Stamps said. "We were the underdogs to get out of the district tournament. Having two tough matches like that prepares for the state tournament. We're going to be under that kind of pressure on Sunday."