Competing on Virginia Tech’s courts in June is nothing new to Jamestown girls tennis coach Karen Johnson.
Playing into the weekend is.
Jamestown shut out Hidden Valley 5-0 in Friday’s Group AA semifinals to clinch their first appearance in the state championship since 2008.
The Eagles will face Western Albermarle at 9 a.m. on Saturday in search of their first state title since 2006.
Since taking over Jamestown’s program in 2009, Johnson has guided the Eagles to the final four in Blacksburg every year before losing to the eventual state champion in Friday’s semifinals.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Johnson said of earning the right to play on Saturday. “It’s a proud moment for me, because they (pointing towards her team) have worked so hard for this, and to be with this group every year and finally reach this pinnacle is just a great feeling.”
The match began a little after noon on Tech’s outdoor courts with five of Jamestown’s six players jumping out to early advantages in the opening set. Jamestown’s strong start was interrupted, however, less than a half-hour in because of rain.
Play resumed outside shortly after 2 p.m., and the Eagles picked up right where they left off.
Anna Walter and Liz Wallace made quick work of their opponents at No. 2 and No. 3 singles to give Jamestown a 2-0 lead, and they were joined on the sidelines shortly thereafter by Sarah Reso and Katie Hunt, who also posted straight-set victories at No. 5 and No. 6.
Hunt, a sophomore competing in her first state tournament match, said, “I was nervous at the beginning but started to get more comfortable. I really wanted to help the team.”
After cruising to a 6-0 victory in the first set, The Eagles No. 4 Kathy Sharp seemed poised to clinch the victory as she led Hidden Valley’s Laura Sowder 4-1 in the second.
Sowder, though, rallied furiously to level the set at five games apiece, and just as Sharp regained the momentum with a cross-court backhand winner to take a 6-5 lead, the skies opened up again and forced the second stoppage in play.
Sharp and Sowder, along with Leah Walter and Ceyda Durmaz at No. 1 singles, moved their match inside where it took Sharp all of 10 minutes to win one game and finish off the match-clinching victory.
“I was really hoping to just finish (the match) outside,” Sharp said after her match. “But I told myself to just stay patient, keep my focus and make sure I didn’t change my game.”
As soon as Sharp completed her match, she was swarmed by her teammates at center court.
One of the first two greet her was senior L. Walter, who was in the middle of her second set with Durmaz one court over.
Durmaz, who on Thursday captured the AA state singles title in convincing fashion – 6-0, 6-2 over Western Albermarle’s Emily Kochard – used an array of powerful, slicing ground strokes to defeat L. Walter 6-1 in the first set. Walter, however, after Johnson offered her a bit of motivation by telling her that all of her teammates had won the first set, refused to go down without a fight.
L. Walter was tied 4-4 with Durmaz – the most games Durmaz surrendered during her run to a state singles title – when Sharp clinched the win for Jamestown.
“To me, that’s the sign of a team leader,” Johnson said of L. Walter. “She knew she was in for a dog fight going up against the best (AA) player in the state and may not be able to help her team this one time. But she was so ecstatic and happy for the other girls and the team in general, that really lifted her mood a little bit, and you could tell by how she was playing.”
Johnson added that she was “thrilled” for her team to give such a dominant performance on the biggest of stages.
“It speaks to how determined these girls are,” Johnson said. “We are very strong in doubles, so I’m never worried going into (doubles), but for them to get it done in singles is an outstanding accomplishment.”
Equally as happy were Jamestown’s seven seniors.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Wallace said. “We have a very close group and that makes this moment even better.”
Added Sharp, “Everyone has wanted (to reach the state final) so badly for so long, and now we’re all getting to go.”
Group AA Tennis Championship- Saturday, June 8
Jamestown vs. Western Albermarle
Virginia Tech Tennis Center, 9 a.m.