GRANVILLE — Andy Hupp and Lacey Layne did not share who won their challenge match, but Newark girls tennis coach Rob Hays had a hunch and put them on the same side of the court Friday.
It proved to be a stroke of genius. The seniors finished an unbeaten 3-0 at No. 1 doubles and helped the Wildcats win their first Licking County Tournament championship in the season-opening event at Denison University.
“It feels great,” Hupp said. “We started (together) yesterday. We picked things up pretty quickly. We figured what each other’s strengths are and how to cover for each other.”
Hupp and Layne beat opponents from Watkins Memorial 6-4, Granville 6-2 and Zanesville 6-1. Each match consisted of just one set with a tiebreaker at 5-5.
“It’s a completely different experience with a different person,” Layne said. “I love learning about Andy and how she plays and how we can help each other. It’s really fun.”
The tournament had just one repeat champion among the six courts. It also featured an incredibly close team finish with Newark totaling 13 points, just ahead of Granville’s 12 and Watkins’ 11.
Junior Lydia Sears and sophomore Aleigh Fraizer won at No. 3 doubles for Newark, and Vanessa Bennett edged Watkins Memorial’s Kaiya Minier in a tiebreaker to win at No. 2 singles in the day’s final match to clinch the Wildcats’ championship.
“No, I don’t like pressure. When everybody was clapping, I almost told my teammates to shut up. I’m not joking,” said Bennett, who also went to a tiebreaker with Granville’s Grace Emery.
“I expected to lose,” Bennett added. “I didn’t think I was going to put that much effort into it considering the previous match went into a tiebreak, but I wanted it more for my teammates. It was for my team.”
Watkins freshman Nora Grennan lost just three games at No. 1 singles.
Grennan followed in the footsteps of former Watkins star Lillia Walter, who was a four-time champion in the event. Her current teammate Minier won No. 1 singles last year.
“I have been waiting since fifth grade because I have been managing the high school team and watching all of the matches. I was so excited to finally be in the tournament,” Grennan said. “It feels like yesterday I was watching Lillia play. … I wasn’t that nervous coming into it because I was just trying to have a good attitude.”
Watkins sophomore Payton Zerkle picked up a title at No. 3 singles, edging Granville sophomore Ela Kendrick 6-4. Zerkle played doubles last season, but she made a smooth transition to singles.
“I was just trying to focus on the smart shots over power,” Zerkle said. “I want to move the person around the court and wear them out and use that to my advantage.”
Granville seniors Tessa Quijano and Audrey Stankunas were the only repeat champions of the event, winning at No. 2 doubles after taking the crown at No. 3 last season.
The Blue Aces finished a program-record 16-2 last season and graduated a strong senior class. They believe they have the chemistry on and off the court to match that success.
“I am really excited because we have such a great team not just for their play,” Stankunas said. “Everyone is just so supportive.”
Quijano added: “It’s a fun group and it’s our last year. We are finishing what we started.”
Granville’s Abby Riley took runner-up at No. 1 singles. Sadie Landry and Hannah Bishop at No. 1 doubles and Ella Riley and Lily Underhill at No. 3 also each took runner-up for the Blue Aces.
Newark’s Maria Arnold and Dia Bailey took runner-up at No. 2 doubles.
Earning sportsmanship awards were Newark’s Addi Taylert, Granville’s Sarah Williams and Watkins’ Claudia Schaar.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: New girls tennis champions rise to top in Licking County event