Manual's Stearman/Zelichenok take doubles title
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Diagnosed with mononucleosis on Tuesday, Christian Academy junior Grace Jennings nearly missed the State Tennis Championships for the second straight year.
“My Dad was like, ‘You’re pulling out,’” Jennings said. “And I was like, ‘No, I’m not. That’s not how this is going to work. I’m playing.’”
Jennings’ determination paid off.
Avenging a loss from two years ago, Jennings defeated Sayre senior Madeline Rolph 6-4, 6-1 in Saturday’s girls singles final at the University of Kentucky’s Boone/Downing Tennis Complex.
Rolph, a Bowdoin College signee, beat Jennings 6-3, 6-7, 10-6 in the quarterfinals of the 2013 state tournament on her way to winning the title. Jennings not play for CAL as a sophomore, deciding instead to focus on her training for the summer season.
Jennings said the loss to Rolph two years ago was a motivation Saturday.
“I wanted to prove that even though I’m younger that I am a better player,” she said. “I wanted people to realize that through the score, not just me saying it. I wanted to prove I’ve grown as a player and developed more.”
Jennings’ victory completed a Louisville sweep of the girls titles, as Manual’s Sarah Stearman and Emily Zelichenok defeated Collegiate’s Alexis Austin and Caroline Cox 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 in the doubles final.
Jennings cruised through the first two days of the tournament, losing just two games combined in her first four matches. All the while, she watched her diet to battle the mono.
“It was kind of a shock because I’m such an active person and have such a strict schedule,” she said.
Jennings served notice she was the one to beat Saturday morning by defeating McCracken County sophomore Michelle McKamey 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals. McKamey was the tournament’s No. 1 seed after winning the state title last year.
In the final, Jennings hit a big forehand winner to break Rolph and take the first set 6-4. She cruised from there, taking a 5-0 lead in the second set on her way to victory.
“I’m just really happy it went the way it did,” she said.
The doubles final was a bit of redemption for Stearman and Zelichenok, who lost in the semifinals last year as the No. 1 seeds.
After dropping the first set to the Collegiate duo Saturday, Zelichenok said she and Stearman got more aggressive.
“In the first set they were a little passive and just kind of letting things happen,” Manual coach Tim Smith said. “They needed to go for a few more shots, and they did.”
The Manual pair took leads of 7-3 and 9-4 in the third-set super breaker, in which the first team to 10 points (and at least a two-point lead) wins. Austin and Cox pulled within 9-6 before Stearman’s forehand down the line won it.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” Zelichenok said after the win. “The last couple of points we had this big lead and I didn’t want to get cocky or anything. We had to take it one point at a time. … It’s honestly the best I’ve ever felt.”
Both seniors, Stearman has signed with Alabama-Huntsville and Zelichenok is heading to Centre.
“Sarah has really developed her game as a singles players, so there’s so much consistency and variety,” Smith said “Emily really likes the doubles and the interaction and energy of doubles. She served well today and played better from the baseline.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
Grace Jennings (Christian Academy) def. Michelle McKamey (McCracken County) 6-0, 6-1
Madeline Rolph (Sayre) def. Meredith Laskey (Highlands) 6-1, 6-2
Jennings def. Rolph 6-4, 6-1
Sarah Stearman/Emily Zelichenok (Manual) def. Maci Ferguson/Kierstin Hensley (Russell) 6-2, 7-6
Alexis Austin/Caroline Cox (Collegiate) def. Madelyn Kauffman/Sophia Shiben (McCracken County) 4-6, 7-5, 10-6
Stearman/Zelichenok def. Austin/Cox 4-6, 6-4, 10-6
Michelle McKamey (McCracken County), Eva Borders (St. Francis), Grace Jennings (Christian Academy), Allison Quammen (Lexington Catholic), Bailey Thompson (Lawrence County), Madeline Rolph (Sayre), Taylor Sprouse (McCracken County), Meredith Laskey (Highlands), Sarah Stearman (Manual), Emily Zelichenok (Manual), Maci Ferguson (Russell), Kierstin Hensley (Russell), Madelyn Kauffman (McCracken County), Sophia Shiben (McCracken County), Alexis Austin (Collegiate), Caroline Cox (Collegiate), Maryann Meadows (Notre Dame), Abigail Kennedy (Notre Dame), Katie Eden (Lexington Christian), Neha Rao (South Laurel), Mackenzie Snow (Elizabethtown).