It was a rough state tournament at Radford University for the George Mason High School girls tennis representatives, whose season concluded Friday when senior Michelle Repper and junior Kelsey Kane fell to Bland County’s Grace Sarver and Kirby Mustard 6-4, 6-3 in the group A doubles semifinals.
Sarver, who defeated Repper in the singles final on Thursday afternoon, benefited from the Mustang duo playing far from their potential as well as from the consistent play of her partner, Mustard, who held serve in all five opportunities.
The match ended when Repper double faulted twice, sandwiching Kane’s unforced error at the net. It was just that type of contest for Mason, though, one in which nothing seemed to go their way.
“I hate to take anything away from our opponent but I don’t think that we brought our best game today,” Mason coach Chris Madison said. “We never played our game. We had three times as many unforced errors as they had winners. They played well at the net at times, but we just had error after error. I think they’re going to look back on that doubles match and feel like they should have won it.”
The Mustangs entered the match hoping to key on Mustard and exact revenge for Repper’s singles loss. Early on, it looked as though they would achieve their goal. Kane demonstrated her prowess at the net in the first game, slamming consecutive winners to open the set. For the first eight games in the set, no team broke serve and the serving team gave up no more than one point in any given game.
Mason attempted to play up to the net, especially given Mustard’s soft serve and Sarver’s difficulty with her first serve early in the set. Still, Sarver came out exactly the way she ended her straight-set win over Repper the day before: on fire. The fact that Mustard held serve so often turned out to be a bonus.
“[Mustard’s] serve was consistent but soft and we felt like we could take advantage of it,” Madison said. “Every time we tried we came up short, missed two inches wide or two inches long. That was our goal going into the match, to hold serve and break Kirby’s serve and we thought we could do that even after the first game when we didn’t get it, but it never happened.
“Grace didn’t play particularly well today,” he continued, “but she just played solid with solid returns, but the No. 2 girl was the one who really surprised us at the net.”
It appeared that whichever duo broke first would take control and the advantage fell to Bland County when Repper double faulted, eventually smashing a backhand in the net to give Sarver and Mustard a 5-4 lead. Kane sailed a ball long, allowed Mustard to hold for the third time in the set and giving Bland the first-set victory.
“They picked it up and we would mess up a few plays,” Kane said. “We both just got frustrated too easily and that cost us.”
Repper held serve to open up the second set and brought Mason to a break point on Sarver’s serve, eventually forcing a deuce. The Mustangs caught Mustard in between the back line and the net with a volley of forehands, getting the break early in the latter set. Unfortunately for them, Bland County immediately broke back when Mustard hit a winner at the net.
Throughout the match, Bland relied more on Mason errors than winners of its own, playing a more defensive game on the back line rather than attacking the net and going after the hard-hitting Repper.
“They were pretty much playing backward and returning everything we hit at them,” Kane said.
This strategy eventually paid off in spades when Bland broke again to go up 4-3. Mason appeared to have a chance to break Mustard’s serve for the first time in the afternoon, forcing a deuce with a perfectly placed Repper forehand on the left alley. Mustard preserved, holding to go up 5-3 and gaining the upper hand in the match.
“We beat a very strong Wilson memorial team in the regional tournament and I thought that overcoming that match we were very solid and very confident and then we just got real tentative today,” Madison said. “We just played lob, lob, lob and that’s just not our game. We were tentative at the net and missed volley after volley because we didn’t step to the ball. I don’t even know if it was nerves, if yesterday had an effect on us or what, but we didn’t step up today.”
The loss ends an historic career at Mason for Repper, who will attend William and Mary in the fall. The senior placed second in her first-ever singles finals match, leading the Mason team to three-straight state championship appearances after the Mustangs failed to get out of districts for the two years prior to Repper’s freshman year. She also is a two-time Region B singles champion.
“She had a great career and I really wanted her to finish her career with a state championship under her belt because she’s worked really hard and deserved it,” Madison said about Repper, who has lost to the eventual doubles champion every year. “But like I said, she has brought a winning attitude to this program and hopefully that will roll over to next year.”
“I think [Michelle] was disappointed with the outcome,” Kane added, “but we tried our best and we can’t do anything about it now.”