LEXINGTON — She’s beaten college players the last two summers, so being battle-tested isn’t an issue.
She made it to the OHSAA state tournament last year in doubles, so handling the bigger stages isn’t an issue.
She gets to nearly every ball and can put some serious oomph into her shots, so her pixiesh size isn’t an issue.
For Lexington junior Elise Betscher, the toughest thing about playing No. 1 singles this fall on the girls tennis team is who she’s replacing.
“Earnie” was everything.
Courtney Earnest led Lex to consecutive state team championships in 2010 and 2011 and parlayed four years as an All-Ohioan and two years as a state singles runner-up into a scholarship to Ball State University.
“I definitely know where she was coming from,” Betscher said. “I feel like I always have to win, that the team is always depending on me. But I like playing singles and depending on myself.”
Moving up to No. 1 means that Betscher is always getting the other team’s best shot. The adjustment has been both mental and physical.
“I have to get prepared for every match and only two of my (first five) matches haven’t gone three sets, so I’m always on the court after everyone else is done,” she said.
“Everyone (at No.1) is really competitive and trying to get in your head. It’s just not playing the game. They question your calls and try to get you out of your game.”
Earnest did a great job of keeping the No. 1 slot warm for Betscher. So far she’s shown she can handle the heat against one of the state’s toughest schedules.
Lex, with only one senior on the roster, is 3-3, its losses to Division I New Albany, perennial D-II power Columbus Academy and Dayton Oakwood in a match that could have gone either way.
Betscher is 3-2 in singles and 1-0 in doubles. She beat Oakwood’s Jessica White, a state participant last season, went three sets with Columbus Academy star Andrea Ballinger and was leading University of Dayton-bound and 2011 D-I state doubles semifinalist Mandy Marchant of Kenston 6-2 in a tiebreaker before losing the set and match 7-6, 6-4.
“I think we were pretty spoiled with Courtney, or I should say we had an advantage, but Elise has been playing very well,” Lex coach Ron Schaub said. “We’ve got some depth and they’re a close-knit group, so our goal is to go to state for a seventh straight year.”
Lex has won four titles in the last six years at the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team tournament, a stretch that began with crowns in 2006 and 2007 and included a runner-up finish in 2009.
This is the third straight year Lex has had only one senior on the roster, so that Final Four streak doesn’t happen without some of the younger players stepping up.
Schaub is counting on that happening this season as he fills the lineup behind Betscher with senior Emilee Wong, juniors Nicole Dragos and Courtney Ahmed and sophomores Alex Griebling, Jillian Earnest — Courtney’s sister and Betscher’s doubles partner at state — Kiersten Dawson and Ana Marquardt and freshman Maya Ahmed.
Some of Schaub’s players built momentum during the summer in the News Journal Tournament. Betscher reached the women’s singles final for the second straight year, losing in a rematch with Earnest. Courtney Ahmed was champ in girls 16s and Griebling bounced back from a loss to Ahmed in the 16s finals to beat Wong for the 18s title.
“I don’t feel like I’m the only captain,” said Wong, who was bestowed that honor as a senior. “Everybody on the team is so close, so together, it’s more like a team full of captains.”
Schaub always juggles his lineup and this year will be no different, especially with so many interchangeable parts.
“After Elise, we have five girls that are even — Alex, Courtney, Nicole, Jillian and Emilee,” he said. “All of them, on any given day, are darn good.”
Betscher’s breakthrough came in the 2011 News Journal Tournament when she knocked off three college players, all former Lex stars, in Paige Cooper (Ashland), Shellie Webster (Walsh) and Alisha Angle (Walsh) to reach the finals. Betscher proved those wins weren’t a fluke by beating Angle and Webster again this year.
Her confidence got a boost from those wins and the instrumental role she played on last year’s state title team.
“I feel like this summer has helped me more (than reaching state in OHSAA doubles) because it’s closer and I played in more big tournaments this summer,” Betscher said. “The News Journal was good because I wasn’t sure I could do what I did last year, but it ended up being just the same.”
Schaub would settle for “just the same” from his team this fall. Without Earnest, though, winning a third straight state title will be a monumental challenge.
“It’s hard losing Courtney because she brought us all together,” Betscher said. “She’d say inspirational things to get us all pumped up.”
Wong isn’t a big talker, so the team had to look beyond their senior captain for a vocal leader. Betscher nominated Dragos.
“She’s got a large mouth; she talks a ton,” Betscher said, giggling. “She’s one of my best friends … or was until I started talking about her.”