BOWLING GREEN — For the second year in a row, Napoleon tennis’ Aliza Lankenau will end her season at the state tournament, after winning two matches at Thursday’s Division II Tennis District Tournament at Bowling Green State University.
Lankenau squared off against Bellevue’s Rayven Whyde in the first match and used consistent smart play to cruise to the 6-1, 6-1 straight-set win.
“I was pretty confident during warm-ups,” Lankenau said after the match. “At the beginning, I just told myself to stay consistent. I remembered what this was like last year, so I was able to stay more excited to play than nervous.”
Lankenau battled chilly, windy conditions all day, but none more than against Whyde.
“The wind was definitely a factor,” Lankenau said. “It pushed the ball a lot, so I had to make adjustments to how I played.”
When asked about a 45-minute break between matches, Lankenau said she had a plan to stay ready.
“I’m just going to keep moving and keep my mind focused on the task at hand and on nothing else,” Lankenau said. “I’m excited, and I want to use that energy in a positive way.”
That attitude paid off in a big way for Lankenau in her match against Lima Central Catholic’s Olivia Kesner.
Lankenau started the match playing some of her best tennis of the day, winning rally after rally to build a 3-1 lead in the first set, but Kesner battled back to force a tiebreaker.
From there, Lankenau shined.
The junior dominated the tiebreaker, using savvy use of spin and placement to keep Kesner off balance en-route to a 7-0 set-clinching win.
“It’s nice to be able to come out and win tight sets like that,” Lankenau said. “I’m confident I can find it in me to pull out enough big plays in those spots.”
Lankenau jumped ahead again in the second set, leading 3-0 before Kesner won three of the next four points to put the pressure on the Napoleon star.
With the score at 4-3 Lankenau, the junior raced back from the net to play a ball over her shoulder, dropping it perfectly on the line behind Kesner to clinch the fifth point, and Lankenau never looked back.
Lankenau won the next point to clinch the trip to state, celebrating with a fist pump and a high five from her coach.
“This just feels so great,” Lankenau said of advancing to state. “It was my goal at the beginning of the year, and it just showed that working hard definitely paid off.”
Napoleon tennis coach Nathan Butler was impressed by what he saw in his junior.
“We knew she was going to have to play smart tennis the whole day,” Butler said. “She did just that. It kept her in every set. She’s such a great competitor, and you see that when she gets frustrated by her play even when things are going well.”
Butler took a moment to look at the big picture, as well.
“This is great for her and for our school,” Butler said. “She’s one of 16 players in the state to advance, so she’s fortunate to make it, especially for the second year in a row. It’s going to be exciting when she gets out to state, for us and for the community as a whole.”
Lankenau competes in qualifying play today before departing for state, which starts Friday. The junior is staying focused on the qualifier before looking ahead to the tournament.
“Right now, my goal is to be better than a four-seed, because I definitely want to avoid a top seed in the first match,” Lankenau said. “Past that, I don’t really know what my goal for state is. I’m just excited to get out there and have fun.”
Bryan senior Katie Farrell also competed at districts, facing off against Clyde’s Siera Hisey.
Despite playing each point close throughout the match, Farrell struggled to break onto the scoreboard as Hisey advanced beyond the first round with a 6-1, 6-0 win.
“Katie played a mirror image of herself today,” Bryan coach Mitchell Owens said. “That can be the hardest type of opponent to play against.”
Owens saw plenty of positives in Farrell’s play, despite the final score.
“She was in almost every game regardless of the score,” Owens said. “She wasn’t really able to finish the job by securing the points, but she was right there the whole day. She really played hard.”
Owens understood the emotions Farrell was going through at the end of the match, but said he tried to remind her of what she accomplished during her career.
“I told her when we were coming off the court that only one player in the state ends their season with a win,” Owens said. “I wanted her to focus on what she accomplished this year and in her career. She stepped up big and played a defining role in our 20-2 season, and she worked really hard. After the initial pain of losing, she’ll realize what she accomplished.”