As the first three matches ended at the Class 2 sectional meet Tuesday at Cooper Tennis Complex, the district champions were flexing their muscles against their runner-up counterparts.
But then Glendale’s Colleen Mellinger changed the storyline to close the afternoon.
Mellinger, who took second last week in her district, topped Jefferson City Helias district champion Ashley Dowden in a three-set match, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
The victory sends Mellinger, a junior, to state for the third time, but it will be her first trip as a singles player.
“After going twice in doubles, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could make it in singles because it’s such a big feat,” she said.
State also will be at Cooper on Oct. 19-20.
Mellinger won the first set impressively before Dowden responded with a second-set victory. Mellinger was dominant in the 6-1 deciding set.
“I wasn’t really nervous because each match, I try to have a clear head going in,” Mellinger said. “I just tried to stay focused (in the third set) and not lose my head.”
The three victorious district champions — Hillcrest’s Breanna Feemster, and the doubles teams of Eden Hoogveld and Paige Smith of Jefferson City, and Serena Chang and Asana Rimal of Central — moved on in straight-set matches.
But for Chang and Rimal, it was not without some drama.
The Central duo won the first set 6-4, and led 5-3 in the second set. However, a break of Chang and a service hold by Jefferson City’s Claire Murphy evened the set for Murphy and partner Kelly Raithel.
Rimal then served for a point, and then the Central duo earned the trip to state by breaking Jeff City’s serve on its third match point.
“We had to adjust a lot of our playing styles,” Rimal said. “We constantly had to be on our toes, and it was really intense.
“We never thought we had it, even if we were up. We knew that they would come back.”
Chang, a senior, said the realization that it was either advance to state or her career was over compounded an already-tense situation.
“This was the first time we had been in this situation, it was definitely really nerve-racking,” Chang said. “This would be my last match ever, if we lost.”
Hillcrest senior Breanna Feemster cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 victory, giving her a fourth trip to state. New to Class 2 this year, Feemster has qualified for the Class 1 state quarterfinals (2011) and semifinals (’10) in past years.
But for first-timers like Change and Rimal, it will be a unique close to the season.
“We’ll just try our best and train, because we don’t know what’s there (at state),” Rimal said. “But we know it’s going to be really tough.”
Added Chang: “We’re definitely going to embrace this moment, and enjoy it while we’re there. We’ll just cherish it.”
Mellinger said she won’t be taking days off in preparation for state, because she feels stagnant without practicing each day. She’s also not feeling pressure, she said.
“I’m not really nervous about it,” Mellinger said. “I’m just going to have fun.”