The championship matches in the all-FCIAC girls tennis State Open at Yale's indoor Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center on Wednesday afternoon were different, but both as close as could be for straight-sets victories by the state champion winners. The theme of the singles final was familiarity, for both are doubles partners in out-of-school tournaments and are best friends. The common thread of the doubles final was lack of familiarity because the Wilton and Staples teams did not meet in the regular-season match on May 12.
The singles final was the third meeting of the spring for the friendly opponents. Darien sophomore Kateri Martin, seeded fifth, defeated pal Lindsey Evans, a Fairfield Ludlowe junior, 7-5, 7-5, despite trailing in each set. Martin beat Evans 6-4, 6-3 on May 19 in Fairfield when the Blue Wave handed the Falcons their only loss of the season to earn the No. 1 seed, and not Ludlowe, for the FCIAC Championships. Last Friday, in the Class L final, Evans gained a 6-4, 6-4 victory that helped Ludlowe to a 4-3 win and the state title over Darien.
Three courts over, Wilton's Kaitlyn Zheng, a junior, and Taylor Ingerman, a sophomore, beat the Staples pair of senior Kelsey Shockey and freshman Vanessa Mauricio 6-3, 7-6(8-6) by winning the last two points of the tiebreaker. The Warriors' team was seeded fourth and the Wreckers' duo was the No. 7 seed. Both pairs won grueling three-set victories in the semifinals on Tuesday at Yale.
Both Martin and Evans agreed with the notion that they each knew the day would end in happiness, either for winning the state crown herself or knowing that their friend emerged with the title instead. On the court, the friendship was an afterthought.
"I don't like her any more," Evans said, mere minutes after posing for photographers capturing them giving each other double high-fives while smiling.
Ludlowe's John Reisert said in 16 years of coaching he's never seen state singles finalists who were doubles partners and close friends.
"It's really unusual to see," he said. "When the match began, both players treated it as a match. They both focused on the match and let the tennis decide it and not the friendship."
Evans said her regular-season loss to Martin came in part from her treating Martin as a friend. That was overcome in the Class L final.
"I think she played a lot better today (than last Friday)," said Evans, who completed the season with a 25-2 record.
"I was making more balls today than Friday," said Martin, who finished 2014 at 26-2, "Definitely, I was more mentally there than Friday."
Martin said the turning points for her victory came from her rallies when she trailed 5-4 in the first set and 3-0 in the second.
Evans had broken Martin's serve for a 5-3 lead but Martin closed out the first set with wins in the last four games, taking advantage of three double faults by Evans. The Falcons' junior opened the second set with a 3-0 lead but Martin rallied for three straight to tie it at 3-3. Evans won the next two games, then Martin fought back again to claim the trophy by winning four games in a row.
Staples led the first set of the doubles match 2-1 before Zheng/Ingerman broke serve and won five of the last six games. Shockey/Mauricio clung to a 5-4 lead in the second set before the Warriors won two in a row for a 6-5 advantage. Staples got it to 6-6, forcing the back-and-forth tiebreaker.
Warriors coach Mike Racanelli said nervousness dominated him while watching the tiebreaker. "We would get a lead and they (Wreckers) would come back as they always did, then we made a few shots at the end," he said.
"This is the best day of my life," said Zheng, who played No. 3 doubles in 2013. "When we were down 3-0 in the second set, we got back and pulled it out." Zheng, Ingerman and Racanelli all said their mental toughness was the key to victory." Zheng/Ingerman finished the season at 21-1.
"They were two great teams," Staples coach Paco Fabian said. "If it had gotten to the third set, it could have gone either way." Shockey/Mauricio wound up 20-9.
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State Open girls tennis at Yale
Singles: No. 5 Kateri Martin (Darien) def. No. 3 Lindsey Evans (Ludlowe) 7-5, 7-5. Doubles: No. 4 Kaitlyn Zheng/Taylor Ingerman (Wilton) def. No. 7 Kelsey Shockey/Vanessa Mauricio (Staples) 6-3, 7-6(8-6).