Even as the light faded Monday afternoon, seemingly along with her chances of a YAIAA tennis title, Anna Spoden's facial expression rarely changed.

The look of calm -- of poise that belied the York Catholic freshman's age -- stayed there, even as Spoden fell far behind her Fighting Irish teammate and older sister, Ava, in the third and decisive set of their YAIAA Class AA singles final.

"Ava got up 4-0, and it almost seemed like it was going to end," Anna Spoden said. "And I didn't want to give it up."

As she has her whole freshman season, Spoden showed she belongs with the county's best. She rallied from that hole to win six straight games and an improbable county singles title, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4, against her sister and defending YAIAA champion, Ava, at South Western.

Central York’s Jennifer Learmonth won her second straight YAIAA Class AAA girls’ tennis title Monday, defeating teammate Emily Kuhn, 6-0, 6-0,
Central York's Jennifer Learmonth won her second straight YAIAA Class AAA girls' tennis title Monday, defeating teammate Emily Kuhn, 6-0, 6-0, at South Western. (Evening Sun Photo by Meghan Gauriloff)

That final-set flurry capped a frigid Monday afternoon of tennis. Central York senior Jennifer Learmonth claimed her second straight Class AAA county title, cruising past Panthers teammate Emily Kuhn, a freshman, 6-0, 6-0. That match lasted just less than 40 minutes.

While Learmonth overwhelmed Kuhn with power and polish, Spoden used a consistent ground-stroke game that produced exhausting rallies and eventually forced her older sister into mistakes. The sisters' back-and-forth thriller needed close to 2 hours, 40 minutes to complete.

"Certainly Anna is an exceptionally poised ninth-grader," York Catholic coach Paige Mundy said. "She's always exhibited that tremendous sense of grace and poise."

It was a moment Anna Spoden could only dream of last year, when she shadowed the team as its unofficial manager. She took the early lead Monday, ripping a left-handed forehand up the line to win the first-set tiebreaker.

Ava Spoden roared back in the second set with her powerful ground strokes. She looked primed for her second straight county title when she took a 4-0 lead in the third set.

"She was up 4-0 and she was hitting winners all over the place," Anna Spoden said. "At first I was like, 'There's no way I can do this.'"

But Anna switched up her strategy, concentrating on hitting high, deep balls in play instead of going for winners. The scheme coaxed errors from Ava, who began to show her frustration by gesturing and muttering to herself.

Anna took a 5-4 lead in the set with a perfect, lobbed winner, and clinched the title when Ava pumped a return into the net on match point.

"I was trying to sort of ignore the fact I was playing my sister," Anna Spoden said. "In the second set, she really upped her game level. It's hard to beat your sister, too."

Learmonth had no such troubles in her match. The senior, who hopes to play Division I tennis is college, showcased all facets of her game -- from a viscous forehand winner to seal the first set to a soft backhand drop shot on match point.

"It would mean so much to me (to win districts)," said Learmonth, who lost in the District 3 quarterfinals last year. "The top girls in districts, I have a real big mental block on them. ... So if I were to win that would be amazing."

In the third-place matches, South Western's Natalie Greenholt (Class AAA) and York Catholic's Sarah Wargo (AA) both won to secure spots in the district singles tournament. Wargo's victory gave Catholic all three YAIAA spots for Class AA (Ava and Anna Spoden had already qualified).

"This is incredibly special for us as a team and particularly as a school," said Mundy, whose team went undefeated this season. "We had a lot of team goals this season, and this is certainly a bonus in addition to reaching that 12-0 mark."

jclayton@ydr.com; 771-2045

Tuesday's Matches

CLASS AAA DOUBLES

First Round

at South Western H.S.

Jennifer Learmonth-Maggie Golden (1), Central York, vs. Shiloh Austin-Megan Jones, Red Lion

Quinn Ney-Julia Kwarteng, William Penn, vs. Molly Norton-Tori Davis, Dallastown

Liz Wagner-Hannah Wolfe (3), Susquehannock, vs. Jennifer Kearney-Ally Gable, Dallastown

Mary Shaw-Sarah Weist, Spring Grove, vs. LeAnna Simmons-Cindy Shatsar, Dover

Sarah Rudasill-Erin Luckenbaugh, New Oxford, vs. Andrea Mummert-Alex Meyer, West York

Leah Silverman-Nicole Daacke, Susquehannock, vs. Emily Kuhn-Renee Wilson (4), Central York

Natalie Hotaling-Mariana Drot de Gourville, Northeastern, vs. Chelsea Small-Mackenzie Bortner, South Western

Jess Wernig-Ashley Whiteford, Kennard-Dale, vs. Alli Meyer-Natalie Greenholt (2), South Western

Alternates: 1. Cara Glatfelter-Chelsea Proulx, Northeastern; 2. Andrea Hetrick-Jenna Nicholson, New Oxford

CLASS AA DOUBLES

at Dallastown H.S.

Ava Spoden-Anna Spoden (1), York Catholic, bye

Kaila Hess-Molly Plank, Littlestown, vs. Jami Dumler-Erin Thomas, York Catholic

Nichole DePaulis-Radhika Bajaj (4), Delone Catholic, bye

Stephanie Seabra-Daniela Delgado, York Suburban, vs. Ale Heller-Olivia Moore, Biglerville

Ashley Gochoco-Julia Rogers, York Country Day, vs. Emma Hiner-Breanne Robinson, Delone Catholic

Sarah Wargo-Erin Holberg (3), York Catholic, bye

Laney Jenkins-Rebekah Cartwright, Hanover, vs. Christine Belinko-Katie Perez, Littlestown

Katie Woodbury-Amanda Blyth (2), York Suburban, bye

Alternates: 1. Mikayla Trimmer-Sara Schrider, Biglerville; 2. Malena Sanders-Jess London, York Suburban

Note: The second round of doubles will also be played today. All semifinals, championship, and consolation matches will be played Wednesday at South Western.