|Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV/ Henderson's Morgan Daugherty connects on a backhand during Friday's Ches-Mont match against Downingtown East at West Chester Henderson High School.|
By ANDY EDWARDS
WEST CHESTER -- The Downingtown East girls tennis team figured the time had finally come to end West Chester Henderson’s 15-year run atop the National Division standings.
After all, the Cougars had their deepest lineup in years ready to take on a Warriors squad that, less than 24 hours removed from a deflating loss at the hands of Unionville, seemed ripe for the picking.
Henderson, as it turns out, was hardly ready to hand over its crown.
The Warriors took four of the first five courts, all in straight sets, to notch a 5-2 victory over the upset-minded Cougars (8-2, 9-2) and seize control of the National Division race. Henderson (8-1 league) has won at least a share of a league title every year since 1996, and Friday’s convincing performance on a clear day at its home courts practically clinched another one. With their toughest competition in the rearview mirror, the Warriors are firmly planted in the division driver’s seat and ready to ride off into the sunset with their streak in tow.
“It’s nice to carry on a legacy,” said Morgan Daugherty, who coasted to an impressive straight-sets win at second singles. “Not only for coach (Peter) Sok but also for all the girls who came before us. We’ve been working for this moment the whole season and it’s nice that we finally captured it.”
With both schools coming off losses to American Division powerhouse Unionville, early momentum was at a premium. The Warriors were able to snatch it, taking the first set on four of the seven courts and placing the pressure squarely in the Cougars’ court. Needing to erase a one-set deficit on at least one court, Downingtown East wasn’t quite up to the task.
“Even the girls that lost gave a great effort today,” Cougars head coacn Anthony DeCecco said. “As long as we keep improving- and we have been- this will be a good experience for them going into Ches-Monts and districts and everything else.”
It was all Warriors in the early going, as Tory Gasho and Brynn Jones were first off the courts with a 6-1, 6-2 win at first doubles. Daugherty followed suit with a 6-2, 6-1 decision moments later, staking Henderson to a quick 2-0 advantage. Downingtown East’s Amber Davies then got the Cougars on the board with a straight-sets victory at third singles before Henderson’s Thanmayi Palegar finished off Rachel Simmons for a 6-2, 6-3 win at first singles to push the Cougars to the brink.
“Downingtown East is a really good team, so it was really important that we had to win this match,” Thanmayi Palegar said afterwards. “...Both of these teams are really good, and we just had to really fight for every point.”
With East’s second and fourth doubles duos already up a set at that point, the match came down to the third court, where the Cougars’ Meghan O’Reilly and Erin Krauss had climbed out of a 4-1 hole to knot the second set at 5 against Julienne Rodgers and Sydney Zoretic. Two games away from putting the match firmly up for grabs, East had its rally extinguished by the Warriors’ rock-solid third doubles tandem as Rodgers and Zoretic finished off the set, 7-5, to clinch Henderson’s milestone win. Haley Boardman and Jessica Fischer won at second doubles for the Cougars, leaving fourth doubles to complete a thrilling three-setter that could have decided the match, if not for Rodgers and Zoretic. The Warriors lost more than half of their starting lineup from a year ago, but once again Sok’s bunch proved that tradition never graduates.
“Our kids have always had a wonderful work ethic,” Sok said. “They understand tradition and they understand that hard work will pay off later. Fortunately, it paid off for us today. This match could have gone either way. Downingtown East has always been a very worthy opponent; they’re a very good team, they’re well-coached, and their kids are a bunch of good players. We were fortunate to be able to take this one.
“...One thing I always tell them is that proper mental attitude is the basis of success. It consists of the will to win, the eagerness to learn, and the intelligence to retain what they learn. They did all of that today. They went out and played as hard as they could, and as a coach I can’t ask for a better effort from them.”
For a team not accustomed to the taste of defeat, Thursday’s setback at the hands of Unionville was a prime piece of motivation for the Warriors.
“It definitely motivated us,” Daugherty said. (Unionville) is a great team, probably the best that we’ve faced so far. It was a good match to get us warmed up for a really tough match against Downingtown.”
Despite the gravity of Friday’s win, the Warriors can’t boast another division title just yet. Henderson pulled a half-game ahead of the Cougars in the standings, but West Chester East, the surprise of the league to date, knocked off Avon Grove on Friday to match the Warriors at 8-1 in the league. Henderson, however, owns the tiebreaker over the Vikings by virtue of a head-to-head win on August 28, and East has yet to face Unionville. Still, Henderson knows better than to celebrate prematurely.
“We definitely don’t want to become complacent,” Daughtery said. “We know how much more work we have to do to hopefully make it into the postseason...We just have to keep elevating our game to the next level.”
West Chester Henderson 5, Downingtown East 2
1. T. Palegar (WCH) def. Simmons, 6-2, 6-3; 2. Daugherty (WCH) def. Hall, 6-2, 6-1; 3. Davies (DE) def. H. Palegar, 6-1, 6-2.
1. Gasho-Jones (WCH) def. Gegeckas-Reilly, 6-1, 6-2; 2. Boardman-Fischer (DE) def. Couderc-Gergel, 6-4, 6-4; 3. Rodgers-Zoretic (WCH) def. O’Reilly-Krauss, 6-1, 7-5; 4. Chhedha-Hurzeler (WCH) def. Tan-McFadden, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.