York Catholic senior Carolyn Thomas had to take two defeats for the Fighting Irish girls' tennis team on Tuesday afternoon, but her efforts paid off for her team in the end.
The diminutive Thomas is the only returning starter from last season's team. She played at No. 4 singles, where she was undefeated during the regular season last fall and was a Class AA quarterfinalist at the YAIAA championships.
Thomas has jumped up to No. 1 singles this year and had the unenviable task of opening the regular season against Northeastern senior Laura Zielinski. She also had to play No. 1 doubles against Zielinski.
"It is a big difference (from playing at No. 4)," said Thomas, a three-year varsity starter. "(Zielinski) is a phenomenal player. I was lobbing and trying to take advantage of her first serve, just trying to win a point."
Zielinski, whose first singles loss last fall was to Susquehannock's Usha Baublitz in the YAIAA Class AAA championship match, got the better of Thomas in both matches at Springettsbury Park, but it was the Fighting Irish that emerged with a 4-3 win.
"It's difficult for (Thomas) to go out and face Laura in her first league match," Mundy said. "We talked about some strategies. She worked within her gameplan. I know at the end of the match, Carolyn was not disappointed in her play. I think she accepted the fact that playing a player like Laura will truly help her elevate her own play."
York Catholic won the match at No. 2 doubles, where senior Samantha Schwamb and junior Annie Javitt teamed up to defeat Northeastern's Evonne Qiu and Kirsten Harrison, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0. It was the final match going as the sun set in the distance.
"Each of these girls are adjusting to varsity play," Mundy said. "Certainly to the pressure of playing in these kinds of moments, when the match is in the balance and you're playing these deciding doubles points."
Northeastern was up 5-2 in the opening set at No. 2 doubles before Schwamb and Javitt rallied back.
"They showed great resolve," Mundy said. "I felt at that point, we elevated our play. Going into the second set, we talked about being more aggressive and playing to our strengths out there and the girls responded."
Northeastern remained in the match after Zielinski and freshman Courtney Hoff scored a 6-3, 6-1 win over Thomas and Carol Amereihn. Hoff had to step in to play doubles with Zielinski after the heat had gotten Leah Shaffer after her No. 3 singles match.
"Courtney is at No. 6 (singles) and came up and did a great job with Laura," said Northeastern coach Tim Law. "They key (for York Catholic) was getting up 3-2 after singles. We had some tight matches there. That third point in singles is huge. You get that third point and it means the other team has to sweep the doubles. We lost 7-5 in the first set tiebreaker (at No. 2 doubles). You can't get much closer than that."
York Catholic staked itself to a one-point lead after singles play thanks to wins by Schwamb at No. 2, Javitt at No. 3 and by junior Erin McBrairty at No. 5.
"Certainly for us, having that third point heading into doubles was critical," Mundy said. "Particulary because Laura (Zielinski) is such a strong player. We knew they would be formidable in doubles."
Zielinski and Harrison won points at No. 1 singles and No. 4 singles for the Bobcats.
"My first serve was giving me a little trouble," said Zielinski, who is in her third season at No. 1 singles at Northeastern. "I had to refocus and it came back. I'm never truly at the point where I'm happy with something. There is always something to work on and try to get better."
The match was a homecoming of sorts for Law, who co-coached the inaugural season of the York Catholic boys' tennis program with Mundy in the spring of 2001. Law also co-coached the Fighting Irish girls team for three seasons in the 90s with Skip Lehmann.
"This is my first year back since then," Law said. "I help out with the high school wrestling (at Northeastern) and the athletic director had it posted in the paper this spring that they were looking for a coach. It had been a number of years, but I thought I'd give it a shot."
York Catholic 4, Northeastern 3 at York Catholic
Singles — Laura Zielinski, Ne, def. Carolyn Thomas, 6-0, 6-0. Samantha Schwamb, YC, def. Evonne Qiu, 7-5, 6-4. Annie Javitt, YC, def. Leah Shaffer, 6-2, 6-3. Kirsten Harrison, Ne, def. Carol Amereihn, 6-3, 7-5. Erin McBrairty, YC, def. Katherine McGonigal, 6-2, 6-4.
Doubles — Zielinski-Courtney Hoff, Ne, def. Thomas-Amereihn, 6-3, 6-1. Schwamb-Javitt, YC, def. Qiu-Harrison, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0.