Charleston Catholic coach David Sadd tried his best to prepare his young boys and girls tennis squads for the environment of the state tournament.
But a trial-by-fire in the friendly confines of the Charleston Players Club on Thursday turned into a fairly solid day on Friday and that has both teams squarely in contention.
The Irish’s freshman contingent especially played well on Friday, headlined by Class AA-A semifinal wins from boys No. 1 Nick Giatris and girls No. 1 Nadia Orcutt. As of press time, the Irish had placed three boys singles, two girls singles and both the boys and girls No. 1 doubles tandems into finals scheduled for Saturday. No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches were still ongoing.
Giatris knocked off Winfield’s William Sinclair 6-2, 6-1 in a semifinal on Friday, his second dominant performance in a row after taking care of Wood County Christian’s Elijah Kuhl 8-1 on Thursday afternoon. However, Giatris barely got into that match at all, needing an 8-2 tiebreak to settle a 9-8 match in his opener against Logan’s Jackson Akers. He’ll play Williamstown’s Austin Bosgraf in a final on Saturday.
Giatris, who also advanced in Catholic’s No. 1 doubles pairing with partner Connor Waybright, said Thursday morning brought the jitters Sadd had warned about, even though he never expected them to come to fruition.
“I never expected the nerves to hit in states because I’ve played tournaments and nerves aren’t really a thing for me anymore,” Giatris admitted. “And then I got here. My coach was saying, ‘It’s different, it’s different,’ and I was like, ‘No, it can’t be.’ And then I got there and I was like, ‘This is different.’ I was scared to hit the ball. I was scared to do anything.”
With five freshmen and a sophomore comprising the boys team, Sadd tried to prepare his youngsters as best he could and despite some early road bumps, the ninth graders came through.
“This is not like any environment they’ve ever played in and that’s the kind of stress we’ve tried to duplicate in practice,” Sadd said. “They got a mouth full of vinegar yesterday.
“We just put pressure on them in practice to play well. We put pressure to get out of them what they can do and then do a little bit more and a little bit more.”
After Giatris’ strong semifinal performance, Waybright took care of Logan’s Riley Reed at No. 2 singles and Ethan Bastin defeated Williamstown’s Tyler Fenton at No. 3. No. 4 singles player Patrick Griffith dropped a straight-set match to Winfield’s Mitchell Proper to account for the only singles loss on the boys side.
Particularly, Bastin’s win over Fenton was an early, pivotal match to win as Saturday promises to be a showdown between the Irish and Yellowjackets for team supremacy.
“We knocked them out so they only got one point at the three, so that’s a huge swing for us,” Sadd said.
On the girls side, Orcutt followed up an impressive Thursday with another big performance Friday, picking up a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Lewis County’s Emily Lybarger the day after winning a pair of matches 8-0. Orcutt will meet Chapmanville’s Courtney Curnutte in a battle betwixt freshmen on Saturday.
While Orcutt continued to cruise, the same couldn’t be said about No. 2 Annie Cimino, a junior who claimed the No. 3 singles state title a year ago. Cimino dropped her opening set before rallying big to claim a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Chapmanville’s Jill Blevins during the heat of the day on Friday. She’ll face off with Logan’s Riley Moore in the finals.
With Catholic’s No. 3 player Molly Murphy and No. 4 Clare Mullen each falling in semifinals later on Friday afternoon, Cimino’s victory loomed even larger.
“I’ll put Annie up against anybody, I’ll put her heart up against anybody’s heart,” Sadd said. “There is no athlete in the state that’s got her heart. They might be better at this or that but I can tell you right now she’s going to give you everything she’s got. She’s going to give you all of it.”
Also, a member of Catholic’s soccer and basketball teams, Cimino credited those sports with helping her on Friday as the third set wore on and as Blevins continued to force her to run the baseline to set up return volleys.
“The third set, I feel like soccer plays a big part in this and the endurance comes in, that’s what I was really relying on,” Cimino said. “She was running me all over the court. She had really good placement.”