PLYMOUTH — Winning your conference-opener always feels good.
When it’s a win over your bitter rival, it feels even better. And when it’s a complete shutout, it’s downright terrific.
Plymouth No. 2 Mikayla German battled back from a second-set loss to hand Warsaw’s Sarah Boyle a 7-4 defeat in a third set tiebreaker Tuesday, thus completing a 5-0 whitewashing of the visiting Tigers in a Northern Lakes Conference-opening girls tennis meet in Centennial Park.
It was a feel-good turnaround for a returning Pilgrims lineup that can remember suffering a pair of narrow defeats at the hands of Warsaw last season.
“I’m impressed by our girls, kind of the mentality they had coming out,” said Plymouth girls tennis coach Brad Haeck. “Playing a team we lost two 3-2 matches with last year — and we only lost one of our top seven (players) and they only lost one of their top seven — we came out and played really well. They were determined right from the moment they walked onto the court. I’m just really proud of everyone.”
Haeck downplayed the reprisal factor but said it was probably on his players’ minds after last year’s close losses in NLC round robin and conference tournament play. If the Pilgrims needed any extra motivation for the league-opener, the winner of the Plymouth-Warsaw meet has historically gone on to earn a top finish in the final Northern Lakes standings, the Plymouth boss said.
“It’s a traditional rival, and honestly the majority of the years that I’ve been coaching the winner either gets a share or wins conference,” Haeck said. “This is always a really critical match toward how the conference race shakes out. I know we’re going to have a lot of tough matches in conference, but this is a great way to get started.”
Except for German’s third-set tiebreaker at 2 singles, Plymouth won in straight sets on all courts Tuesday.
Carly Berger beat Rachel Alexander 6-1, 6-0 at 3 singles for the Pilgrims’ first match point, and Allie Berger followed up with a 6-1, 6-3 defeat of Jacqueline Sasso on the 1 singles court.
The doubles matches were soon to follow as Marissa German and Andria Shook combined to beat Olivia Wallin and Marley Smith 6-0, 6-2 at 1 doubles, and Emily Blake and Ellen Smith combined for a 2 doubles win over Lindsay Sciarra and Anna Hall in straight 6-2 sets.
But with a potential top seeding at the NLC tourney and the pride of a traditional rivalry on the line, Warsaw’s Boyle battled back from a 6-3 loss in the opening set to steal the match momentum with a 6-1 defeat of Mikayla German in the second set at 2 singles. German went down 4-2 early in the third set but fought her way into a 5-4 lead before Boyle extended the match to a tiebreak.
German jumped ahead with the first three points, and after Boyle closed to 5-4, German — who is making the transition from 2 doubles to 2 singles this year — put the match away with two straight points off volleys to clinch the team shutout.
“She’s always played doubles before, and I thought that would be a good spot for her on a singles court,” said Haeck of his 2 singles player. “She’s going to give us a chance to win; she’s going to battle out there for us every match. When she was out there, there were times when she got a little unaggressive, I guess, and her game is going to be getting to the net a lot and trying to be aggressive.”
With Tuesday’s victory, Plymouth is off to a strong 3-1 start to the season. The Pilgrims could even take away positives from their only loss as they hung tough with No. 16-ranked Valparaiso on the road April 8, a loss that was closer than the final 4-1 margin suggested as Marissa German and Shook won at 1 doubles, Blake and Smith fell only via a narrow 7-5 tiebreaker at 2 doubles, and Mikayla German forced another three-setter at 2 singles.
“I’m real happy with where we’re at right now, but it doesn’t mean we can settle,” said Haeck. “We’ve got to have that mentality of getting better every day in practice and working hard because we’re going to see a lot of good teams on our schedule and in our conference, and we’ve just got to be determined every time we play to play our best match.”
While the Pilgrims junior varsity squad — a 12-5 winner over its Warsaw counterpart Tuesday — hosts a JV tournament Saturday, Plymouth’s varsity players will take a week off before hosting South Bend Clay next Monday at 5 p.m. They return to conference play on the road at Concord Tuesday, also at 5.
• PLYMOUTH 5, WARSAW 0
Singles: 1. Allie Berger beat Jacqueline Sasso 6-1, 6-3; 2. Mikayla German beat Sarah Boyle 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4); 3. Carly Berger beat Rachel Alexander 6-1, 6-0.
Doubles: 1. Marissa German-Andria Shook beat Olivia Wallin-Marley Smith 6-0, 6-2; 2. Emily Blake-Ellen Smith beat Lindsay Sciarra-Anna Hall 6-2, 6-2.
JV Score: Plymouth 12, Warsaw 5
Records: Plymouth 3-1 (1-0 NLC), Warsaw 0-2 (0-1 NLC).
JV score: Plymouth 12, Warsaw 5