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May 19, 2013

Kats regain tennis throne

Kokomo beats Eastern in final of sectional

Kokomo — At 10:51 a.m. Saturday morning, the bulk of Kokomo’s girls tennis team sprinted from the viewing hill to the east entrance of the tennis courts to mob No. 1 singles player Morgan Mohr as she came off the court following her 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Eastern’s Courtney Clark.

The No. 3 singles match was still raging, but the team match was already won. The Wildkats had reconquered the throne from two-time defending champion Eastern and were once again champions of the Kokomo Sectional.

“I won it my freshman year and ever since, it’s been like my ultimate goal for tennis,” Mohr said of the Kats’ sectional title. “What an amazing way to cap off my senior year. It couldn’t have been better.

“I knew it was going to be three sets, too. I haven’t had a three-set this year, so I’ve been telling my coaches I’ve been saving this.”

Mohr’s victory made the team score 3-1 Kokomo. Approximately an hour later, Kokomo’s Rachel Stout closed out a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Claire Holkenbrink at No. 3 singles to complete Kokomo’s 4-1 victory.

“It’s monumental for Kokomo, where we want to go with this program,” said Kat coach Natalie Raney. “My first year as coach, I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to do this with, a better group of seniors.”

Raney is a 2001 Kokomo graduate and played tennis for former KHS coach Ginger Gilles.

“This is what I wanted from Day 1,” Raney said. “My mentor’s been Ginger Gilles, who I played for. That’s kind of where I want our program to come back to, and to do it in my first year and get the sectional title back is just more than I could ask for. All credit goes to the girls. They believed. The first day I walked in they were behind me, believed in everything I was telling them, put the work in and did what they had to do.”

Kokomo will host No. 1-ranked Carmel in a Kokomo Regional semifinal Tuesday. Harrison and Logansport will meet in the other semifinal.

In the sectional final, Kokomo also swept the doubles matches as Brooke Grider and Stephanie Kailey won the No. 1 match 6-2, 6-3 over Makayla Sargent and Marie Holkenbrink, and Riley Vyain and AnneMarie Balsbaugh won the No. 2 match 6-3, 6-1 over Marissa Evenson and Rachel Manfred.

The championship match finished Saturday after rain forced a postponement in play Friday. The Wildkats had one match in the bag Friday, having claimed the No. 2 doubles match, but were losing at No. 1 singles when the rain came. The Kats had won the first set at 1 doubles, Eastern was leading at 2 singles, and the 3 singles match was knotted at 6-all in the first set.

“We had a 1-0 advantage and that was nice to go overnight sleeping knowing we were up 1-0,” Raney said. “I think that kind of put the pressure on [Eastern]. What was key for us was our [1] doubles got off the court quick [Saturday] and we were up. They knew they had to win all three points left on the court and that’s what we wanted, so that put pressure on each of their singles players.”

The next point to be decided on Saturday was No. 2 singles, where Eastern’s Riley Kanable scored a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Amanda Tran. That left the 1 and 3 singles matches. On the No. 1 court, Mohr, who dropped the first set Friday, was staging a comeback.

“I think [the postponement] hurt us. I think it helped them better than it helped us,” Eastern coach Pat Rice said. “Kokomo’s No. 1 girl, I think it really helped. Courtney was playing really well [Friday] and then the rain came. Morgan Mohr is a great singles player.”

Mohr was playing patient points that sometimes featured 20 shots. She made liberal use of lobs with which Clark had trouble attacking.

“It was a smart strategy on her part,” Rice said. “She wasn’t doing that as much [Friday] and Courtney was ripping winners on her. That’s a senior for you. She came out with a much better game plan [Saturday]. Courtney’s a sophomore, she’s going to learn from this.”

Raney said Mohr has gotten smarter and more patient as the season has progressed, paving the way for her clinching point on Saturday.

“I would say earlier in the season, it wasn’t typical of Morgan,” Raney said. “She has steadily improved her game and changed it to beat her opponent. She used all the lobs, you saw her come to the net, you saw her change the pace on the ball and that’s something she developed as the season went on, so she peaked at the right time.”

Mohr was able to draw energy from teammates.

“The coaches and I were talking [Saturday] morning how really important it was — even if you don’t win every point — to stay on and drag on the matches as long as possible because it’s so much easier to play when you have somebody on your team fighting next to you on the next court,” she said as the No. 3 match was still up for grabs. “I hope that helps Rachel.”

The Wildkats advance to the regional with an 11-8 record. Eastern finished 13-6 with a share of the Mid-Indiana Conference title.

“We had a great season,” Rice said. “We won the MIC ... first time ever, so that’s awesome for us. We got back to the finals for fifth straight year. We’re young. We graduate one player so we’re hungry, we want to get back.”

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