CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – An exemplary North County girls tennis season appeared right on track for another milestone achievement in the Class 1 sectional round on Monday.
Within a fateful span of about 30 minutes, however, Notre Dame had seized all momentum in three remaining singles battles. And optimism morphed into sobering apprehension.
Megan Gullette, Amina Hussein and Claire Southard instead prevailed in succession as their squad faced elimination, and the Bulldogs emerged with the 5-4 triumph.
The action commenced shortly after 10 a.m. and lasted well past the four-hour mark in duration, excluding a 19-minute delay caused by a sudden afternoon rain shower.
And for the majority of that time, the outlook was positive for the Lady Raiders, who concluded their first district championship season in six years with a 14-1 record.
Senior Julianna Farr completed an unbeaten No. 2 singles campaign, and freshman Lucy Pace did likewise against No. 5 competition with her own dominant effort.
Farr eased past Claire Bruenderman 6-3, 6-2 and Pace overpowered Emma Marshall 6-1, 6-1 to hand North County an overall 4-2 advantage.
Gullette sparked the comeback for Notre Dame (14-1) at the No. 1 level. Her 6-4, 6-3 win over Lauren Politte avenged an earlier doubles loss.
Gullette protected her serve and closed out a highly competitive first set on a lengthy exchange when a Politte return drifted beyond the baseline.
Politte offered her final resistance with a service break, but was promptly answered as Gullette placed a few slicing returns just out of her reach.
The pressure for North County then shifted to junior Katelynne Jones, who hoped to persevere through bouts of inconsistency and unfavorable weather conditions near the end.
Jones earned a key break against Hussein for an early 5-4 edge, but missed two crucial approaching returns while serving for the first set. Hussein soon had triple set point at love-40 and promptly cashed in.
Jones regrouped to pull even with a stellar second stanza, mixing returns and volleys toward sidelines and corners with greater precision. She won nine consecutive points carrying over into the decisive set.
Hussein showed her resilience to surge back from love-30, however, and executed a smooth drop shot to steal the opening game. She enjoyed a commanding 5-1 edge just as the rain intensified.
The short break seemed to temporarily calm Jones, who rolled through an ensuing service break to stay alive. Hussein ripped a forehand just inches from the baseline to punctuate her 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 victory.
The No. 3 singles match would settle the outcome. Southard controlled the first set brilliantly and brought Notre Dame over the finish line by downing Hanna Politte 6-0, 6-3.
The gusting crosswind hung around and tested the mental focus of both players, rewarding flat ground strokes by knocking the ball down more quickly while pushing elevated shots farther out of bounds.
Southard was plagued by seven double faults in her last three service games. Politte could not take full advantage, as errant returns handed many of those points back.
Notre Dame advanced to the quarterfinal round later in the afternoon, and was handled 5-1 by powerful Ursuline Academy, which got past Lutheran South in the other sectional.
North County put itself in solid position against the Bulldogs with a 2-1 lead through doubles, but lamented a missed opportunity to secure all three.
Lauren Politte and Hanna Politte survived an arduous tussle at No. 1 to edge Gullette and Southard 9-7. Hanna put away several alert volleys up front, including a big one at 7-5 when Notre Dame could only answer a forehand shot by Lauren with a soft return lob.
Southard missed a clean smash at 30-40 after Gullette drilled a passing winner two games later, but the Notre Dame duo pulled even 7-7 on two North County unforced errors.
Hanna Politte won her first three points to take the ensuing service game, and landed a key drop shot to earn a subsequent match point that she and her sister converted on a long return.
Bruenderman and Hussein salvaged a critical 8-6 result by overtaking Farr and Jones, who had established an impressive 3-0 start by capturing 12 of the first 15 points.
Farr opened with a perfect service game, and held trailing 6-7 as Jones pierced each back corner with winners. Hussein responded with two unreturned serves to seal the outcome.
Farr was often content to outlast Bruenderman on singles rallies by placing shots in the deep middle portion of the court. She also added a few solid cross-court winners when forced to approach.
Pace yet again signaled a bright future for the Lady Raiders’ program – which will graduate two seniors – by frustrating Marshall with sharp passing shots and brisk serves.
Pace was the lone North County player to win twice on Monday, pairing with senior Emily Pruneau for an 8-3 doubles rout after leading Suna Mungee and Marshall 7-1.
Mungee, who was not in the lineup for Notre Dame in a 5-4 loss at Arcadia Valley last month, claimed the last eight games while blitzing Pruneau 6-3, 6-0 at No. 6 singles.
The Politte sisters will compete in the state doubles bracket on Friday in Springfield, Mo.
1. Megan Gullette (ND) def. Lauren Politte, 6-4, 6-3
2. Julianna Farr (NC) def. Claire Bruenderman, 6-3, 6-2
3. Claire Southard (ND) def. Hanna Politte, 6-0, 6-3
4. Amina Hussein (ND) def. Katelynne Jones, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2
5. Lucy Pace (NC) def. Emma Marshall, 6-1, 6-1
6. Suna Mungee (ND) def. Emily Pruneau, 6-3, 6-0
1. L Politte/H Politte (NC) def. Gullette/Southard, 9-7
2. Bruenderman/Hussein (ND) def. Farr/Jones, 8-6
3. Pace/Pruneau (NC) def. Marshall/Mungee, 8-3
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