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Vikings edge Raiders for sectional title

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Blue River Valley seniors Lindsey Williams (far left) and Haley Foster (far right) congratulate Shenandoah’s Carly Allen (center) and Leatha Wilson (not in photo) for a match well played after their No. 1 doubles flight during Saturday’s championship match of the New Castle girls tennis sectional. Williams and Foster defeated Allen and Wilson in three sets 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 to garner the third point the Vikings needed to win the team title in their 3-2 victory over the Raiders.
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Shenandoah’s Morgan Nation returns a shot to Blue River Valley’s Naomi Brewer in their No. 1 singles flight during Saturday’s championship match of the New Castle girls tennis sectional. Nation outlasted Brewer in a classic battle 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7) to win a point for the Raiders in their 3-2 loss to the Vikings. Nation will compete in the state singles tournament starting this week in Richmond.
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Players and coaches of the Blue River Valley High School girls tennis team are all smiles early Saturday afternoon after defeating Shenandoah 3-2 to win the New Castle girls tennis sectional. The Vikings will play Franklin County this evening in the regional semifinals at Richmond High School.
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Blue River Valley sophomore Mallory Cross returns a shot to her opponent during the New Castle girls tennis sectional. Saturday, Cross defeated Shenandoah’s Abby Rector 6-2, 6-3 to win a point for the Vikings in their 3-2 victory over the Raiders in the sectional championship match. Cross has been a member of three BRV sectional championship teams during the 2018-19 academic year.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

The Blue River Valley High School girls athletics program already had achieved a successful 2018-19 academic year after winning Class A sectional championships in volleyball last October and in basketball this past February.

The Viking girls capped their amazing year Saturday by winning the New Castle tennis sectional 3-2 over Shenandoah to achieve the trifecta.

It is believed this is the first time the high school, now in its 55th year of existence, has ever had its boys or girls capture three team sectional titles in the same academic year.

This victory had to be sweet for the Viking girls tennis team, which was undefeated in head-to-head matches against its opponents, but finished third to Shenandoah and Tri in the Henry County Tournament on May 10.

Blue River gained a bit of revenge, if one wants to use the word, on both, defeating the Titans 4-1 in Friday’s semifinals and then the Raiders in Saturday’s championship match.

Also, the Viking girls won the tennis sectional title two years ago but absorbed a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss to Shenandoah last year in the finals. To win this year with a senior-laden squad, despite some injuries, had to feel good.

“We’ve had a really good season,” Blue River Coach Amy Hollingsworth said afterward. “We battled some sickness and injuries at county and we don’t seem to play real well when it comes to eight-game matches, but our girls were ready for this and came through. We played well today even in the couple of matches we lost.”

Blue River won the first two flights of this match rather quickly in straight sets. Viking sophomore Mallory Cross, who was substituting for injured senior Hannah Foster, defeated Shenandoah’s Abby Rector at No. 3 singles 6-2, 6-3 for one of those points.

“I just tried to stay cool and not get frustrated,” Cross said. “I tried to move the ball around on her and concentrated on keeping it in play.”

The Viking No. 2 doubles pair of Anna Hollingsworth and Samantha Webb bested the Raider duo of Abby Decker and Eden Powell 6-3, 6-2.

“Our communication has improved a lot the last week or so, and I think that really came into play in this sectional,” Anna Hollingsworth remarked.

Her doubles partner agreed. “We’re playing well right now,” Webb said, “and our net play was pretty good.”

The wins in those flights brought Blue River to within a point of the sectional championship, but the waiting set in as the other three flights were extended to three sets.

To the relief of Viking fans in attendance, Blue River’s No. 1 doubles pair of Haley Foster and Lindsey Williams were able to subdue the Shenandoah twosome of Carly Allen and Leatha Wilson 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 to give the Vikings the team championship.

“I really love playing with Lindsey,” Haley Foster said, “and we really wanted to win this today. We’ve battled some injuries but have a really good team this season.”

Williams agreed and added a note.

“We try to encourage each other when we are down and not playing really well,” Williams said. “We had to play three sets last night and we won, so we knew we could do it again.”

The other two flights lasted into the early afternoon under sunny skies, very warm temperatures, and a rather stiff breeze blowing from the south.

The No. 1 singles flight would determine if Shenandoah’s Morgan Nation would advance to the state singles tournament, as her opponent, Blue River’s Naomi Brewer, was guaranteed to play with her team in the regional.

These two had an incredible battle as freshmen last season when Nation won in three sets to give her team its third point for the sectional championship.

As sophomores this season, their flight was just as competitive and close as it was a year ago. Nation won the first set 6-3 and Brewer took the second 6-4. After a 10-minute break, their third set commenced.

Brewer had a 4-3 lead in set three only to have Nation win the next two games to go up 5-4. Brewer returned the favor and captured the next two games for a 6-5 advantage, only to have Nation win the 12th game of the set for a 6-6 tie and force the tiebreaker.

Behind 2-1, Nation won five of the next six points and was at match point with a 6-3 lead. But the determined Brewer wouldn’t fold and won the next three points to draw even at 6-all.

The two girls traded the next two points for a 7-7 deadlock before Nation tallied the next two points, the latter on a forehand winner that Brewer couldn’t reach, to win the tiebreaker 9-7 and the flight at 12:45 p.m.

“I struggled a little today,” Nation remarked after her flight with Brewer. “It was rather warm, she’s a good player, and both of us wanted to win. I wanted to get her in positions on the court where I could hit winners. The wind tended to push the ball to the left, which I had to adjust to. I’m glad I’m going to play next week in Richmond, where I lost last year.”

Play continued in the No. 2 singles flight for another 22 minutes until the Raiders’ Sophia Wilkinson put the finishing touches to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Blue River’s Rachel Snavely for Shenandoah’s second point in a flight that took almost three hours to finish.

The Vikings will take on Franklin County, champion of the Connersville sectional, in one of today’s regional semifinal matches at Richmond High School, while Centerville will tangle with Oldenburg Academy in the other semifinal. The regional championship match is scheduled for Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

“I’ve learned to always be eight or nine deep when it comes to tournament time,” Coach Hollingsworth added, “and Mallory did a really good job in stepping in for Hannah late in the season. We’re excited about the regional and feel we can be competitive with whoever we play.”

Nation, undefeated in the sectional, will play someone in the state singles tournament today or Wednesday. New Castle’s No. 1 doubles duo of Abby Hamilton and Emily Scott were undefeated in the sectional and will play a pair of players from another qualifier today or Wednesday in the state doubles competition.

“This was a fantastic match between two really good teams,” Shenandoah Coach John Rhodes said, “and it could have gone either way like it did last year. Nobody lies to lose, but we have a young team and are excited about next season.”