Essex squeaks past MAU in tennis playoffs
BENNINGTON -- As No. 9 seed Essex won in straight sets at first singles and both doubles to take a 3-0 lead in Tuesday's Division I playdown at the Bennington Tennis Center, it would take a perfect effort to come back.
They nearly did it.
Mount Anthony got wins from their No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 singles, but Essex won at No. 5 to squeak past the Patriots, 4-3.
"Coming here, we knew it would be 4-3 either way, so we stressed doubles being a strength," said Essex coach Dennis Langdell. "In the middle, we match up with MAU, so we weren't sure what would happen. We lost a lot of close matches this year."
With the match tied at three victories each, MAU's Grace Page and Essex' Rylee Wrenner battled in the final match to settle it.
Wrenner, coming late to the match finishing a test at school, started out extremely well, hitting consistent shots to take the first set, 6-2. In the second set, Page won two straight games to pull within 3-2, but Wrenner won the final three games in a row to secure the win.
"Rylee came up last year, she's a girl that shows what happens when you work on your game in the offseason," Langdell said. "She tough and good at crunch time."
"Grace is a fighter, a great runner, but she doesn't quite have the tennis IQ yet, but it will come," said MAU coach Steve Coggeshall. "She has a great spirit, feisty on the court and coaches love to see that. She's very competitive, but the girl she played had more experience."
MAU's first singles, Jessie Kuzmicki, ran into Jordan Walsh -- the fourth place finisher at the individual tournament last weekend -- and dropped a 0-6, 2-6 decision in the opening match.
"The first couple games, I was making a lot of unforced errors and her shots were good, hard and going in," said Kuzmicki, who finished 6-7 individually on the year.
The doubles matches were each straight set wins for the Hornets, with the first pair -- Ashley Claude and Sarah Dyke -- winning 6-0, 6-1. The second pair -- Essie Fiore and Priyanka Santhanakrishnan matched their teammates with a 6-0, 6-1 win.
But to move on, Essex needed four wins, so it was nail-biting time as the final matches continued.
The first MAU player to score a victory was Erica Frost at No. 3, beating Sophia Seeman 6-2, 6-2, while at the fourth singles, Margaret Curtin, dominated her opponent, Christina Tellez, 6-1, 6-1.
Curtin, a player used to long rallies, took advantage of her uber-consistent play to force Tellez into a plethora of unforced errors.
"Her style was way different then mine, I like [playing] longer points," Curtin said. "She made a lot of unforced errors. I just [had to] stay consistent. I was getting in her head and that gave me the advantage."
In the first set, Curtin used Tellez' aggressiveness against her, dropping in some perfectly placed lob shots to win points. Tellez held serve to pull to 2-1, but Curtin won the next eight points and two games in a row to make it 4-1. On set point at deuce, a long rally went Curtin's way to finish the set.
In the second set, Curtin won the first five games, but Tellez won the next with a cross-court winner at deuce. Curtin shook it off to win the next game and take the match.
"It's nice to win yourself, but also for the team, when the team comes together and wins together, it feels really good," Curtin said.
At second singles, MAU senior Keara Sternberg tied the match with a three-set comeback win against Zoe Frolick.
Sternberg lost the first set, 3-6, but won the second 6-3, setting the scene for the tiebreak, which Sternberg won 10-8.
"She seemed overmatched in the first set, so I didn't expect her to win that match," Coggeshall said. "But then she came back, it was her best match of the year, by far. She gets into these third set tiebreakers, she's used to it, but she's mentally strong. It was great to see her win in her last game."
Langdell said the match came down to a couple of shots.
"I felt bad for Zoe, she looked good in the first set and won, then led in the second. She has to learn how to control the points," Langdell said.
Mount Anthony ends the season at 6-7, while Essex improves to 7-9 and will take on South Burlington in the next round.
"We all need to be more consistent, but there's always room to grow, with most of the players coming back," said MAU coach Tanya Case.
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