The third time was not the charm for the George Mason High School girls varsity tennis team.
After advancing to the Virginia Group A state finals for the third time in three years, the Mustangs were again halted on the brink of a championship, this time by Region D champions John Battle, 5-3, on the courts at Radford University in Radford, Va.
With the match tied at three victories apiece after singles play, the tandem of twins Jill and Jesse Williams defeated Mason’s Kelsey Kane and Claire Sedmak at No. 2 doubles, 6-2, 6-2, to put John Battle within one victory of the championship. The clincher was supplied by Battle’s No. 1 pairing of Emerald Lauzon and Carly Johnson (6-3, 6-4), over Mason’s Michelle Repper and Annie Zweighaft.
With Lauzon serving for the match, Repper couldn’t quite reach a deep volley by Johnson, her return falling just short and into the net.
The state title is the first for John Battle (13-0), a school that hails from the same region as Gate City, the squad that eliminated Mason in the finals the previous two seasons.
The battle at No. 1 doubles was a rematch of Friday’s Group A doubles tournament semifinals, where Lauzon and Johnson similarly prevailed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Lauzon also claimed the girls singles title, making it a clean sweep for the John Battle senior.
“I feel really good because the last two times [in the state finals] we never got to doubles at 3-3,” Mason Head Coach Chris Madison said. “John Battle played phenomenal tennis. I’m not sure we played bad at all.”
The Mustangs maintained a fighting chance in the doubles portion of the team final largely because of a crucial win by No. 6 singles player Corina Spanu. Spanu, one of Mason’s three seniors along with Zweighaft and alternate Minh Le, used a boundless reservoir of energy to top Katie Clark 7-5, 6-1, in the oppressive 97-degree heat.
“I just kept moving all throughout the match and I think it intimidated my opponent,” Spanu said. “In the past my matches had all been going three sets. This is the shortest match so far. I had the energy to go for another hour at least.”
Spanu’s teammates Kelsey Kane — a 6-1, 6-4 winner at No. 2 singles — and Isis Hanna — who prevailed at No. 5, 6-3, 6-4 — joined the senior in the win column against Battle, but it wasn’t enough to achieve their goal of a state title.
Despite their previous experiences, this latest loss in the finals was no easier to swallow for Mason’s players, who showed class, but little joy, after finishing as the second best Single A program in Virginia. The Mustangs will reload for next year however, losing only two members of their top six singles players and one member from their three doubles pairings.
Two of those returning members, Kane and Hanna, played pivotal roles in the Mustangs’ 5-1 win over Radford in the semifinals on Friday. After taking the first set, 7-5, from Radford’s Katie Weston, Kane rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second, winning the next five games to win, 6-4. Moving her opponent around the court with slices and lobs, Kane’s patient approach to the game paid off, giving the Mustangs a 2-1 lead after Repper’s 6-0, 6-3 win over Maggie Jaronski at No. 1.
“I was really tired,” Kane said Friday, after facing weather conditions comparable to Saturday’s sauna. “I knew if I lost that [second] set, it would go into a third set and I really didn’t want that.”
Madison also pointed out the critical win by Hanna at No. 5, 6-3, 7-6, over Casey Wojtera. After Sedmak breezed by Lauren Davis, 6-3, 6-2, at No. 4 singles, Hanna’s win earned her teammates a respite from the heat and allowed Repper and Zweighaft to ice the team victory with a 6-4, 7-6 win over Jaronski and Weston at No. 1 doubles.