By Josh Brown
TROY/DAYTON — Milton-Union’s Meredith Fitch and Hannah Fugate taking on Tippecanoe’s Amelia Zweizig and Mira Patel for the sectional doubles title proved to be an interesting study in how rivalries and friendships collide.
And in the end, the friendships won out.
“That’s one thing — they’re all friends,” Milton-Union coach Jenny Fox said. “They play together all the time at Scroeder’s (Tennis Center), they play in tournaments in the offseason together. It was interesting to watch and fun to see how they turn off the friend mode and go to competition mode — and then as soon as they shake hands, the laughter and giggles came back and they were talking about practicing together again.”
Also winning was Fitch and Fugate, though, as the No. 1 seed in the bracket knocked off No. 2 seeded Zweizig and Patel to win a Division II sectional tennis championship Saturday in a tournament that ended up spanning three sites and concluded at Dayton Sports Complex. Milton-Union freshman Taylor Falb also placed third in the singles bracket, as did the Lehman doubles team of Sarah Gibson and Angela Brunner.
The day got off to a strange start, with matches beginning two hours late thanks to an overnight rain leaving the courts wet. The semifinal doubles matches ended up moving to Troy High School, then the finals got started at Troy Community Park … when a few short bursts of heavy rain again soaked the courts, causing the matches to be finished indoors at Dayton Sports Complex.
“Even leading up to the very first matches today, it was a good two hours before we were able to get on a court,” Tippecanoe coach Kaci Matthews said. “Lots of anticipation and warm-up time. I think we warmed up more today than we played actual matches. But, with that being said, we weren’t the only team out there doing that. It was even in that regard.”
Fitch and Fugate started the day with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Lehman’s Gibson and Brunner, while Zweizig and Patel took out Eaton’s unseeded team of Bell and Ward 7-5, 6-1 to advance to the final.
The final round began at the park and was tied 1-1 in the first set when the skies opened, briefly but enough to make the courts unplayable, forcing the players to all head indoors. Once there, Fitch and Fugate won a hard-fought first set 6-4 and then pulled away in the second set to win 6-2 to claim the title.
“It was a close match,” Matthews said. “Milton-Union is a very good team. Hats off to them. It was great tennis, and no matter who won or lost, the way those four girls battled against each other, you can’t ask for better tennis than that.”
“It was a great match,” Fox said. “Tipp got a few games in the regular season where they got to play with each other, whereas Meredith and Hannah, Tuesday was their first time out trying to mesh with each other, and I think they did great. We’ll have a few days of practice to work on some things for Thursday. It was really something that opened their eyes and gave them a taste of what doubles is like.”
It was also a measure of payback for Fitch, who teamed with then-senior Abby Hissong to place second in the 2017 sectional behind a Tippecanoe doubles team of then-seniors Jordan Jones and Sophia McDowell. And her new partner, the senior Fugate, won an individual championship at third singles at last week’s Southwestern Buckeye League tournament.
Zweizig was no stranger to the sectional stage, either. As a freshman last year, she won a sectional singles title, defeating the No. 1 seed — last year and this year — Eaton’s Sophia Murphy. And Patel, only a freshman herself, has already proven herself, too, winning a Greater Western Ohio Conference individual championship in third singles at last week’s GWOC tournament.
“I think it helps a lot with their confidence,” Matthews said. “And even in the maturity aspect, of being in a tough or nerve-wracking match, and just being able to experience other big matches earlier in the year or even in the past, with Amelia going to district last year. There’s a lot to be said about having been there before, and that’s what Amelia brings to the team maturity-wise — even though they’re both very young, you wouldn’t know that by the way they handle themselves on the court. They have seen those situations before, and they usually overcome them. We just ran into a very, very tough competition with Meredith and Hannah today.”
Lehman’s Gibson and Brunner also bounced back in the consolation match, defeating Bell and Ward 7-5, 6-2 to claim a No. 3 seed heading into next week’s district tournament.
And in singles, Milton-Union’s No. 4 seed Falb — another freshman who also won an individual SWBL championship last week at second singles — placed third on the day, falling 6-2, 6-1 to top-seeded Murphy and then putting away second-seeded Macy Wallace from Kenton Ridge, 6-1, 6-4.
“She’s been a heck of a player, all season long fighting through and showing everyone what they have to be scared of for the next three years,” Fox said of Falb. “Taking out the No. 2 seed when she was No. 4, that was a nice win for her to get that third spot and knock out No. 2 to get it.”
And, in the end, they all remain friends as they get ready for the trip to districts.
“It’s always a pleasure to play against Milton,” Matthews said. “They’ve got a great program, and their players are such great people on and off the court. We look forward to working with the to prepare for districts next week.”
The district tournament begins Thursday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.