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Conant girls’ tennis will face Bow for state championship

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' tennis team hosted Pelham in the NHIAA Division III semifinals on Friday, May 25, 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Saturday, May 26, 2018 11:29AM

“One more!”

The cry rang out from the Conant sideline after Friday’s 5-4 semifinal win over Pelham. The Oriole girls’ tennis team will have one more practice, one more bus ride, and one more match – and if things play out in their favor, they might just have one more state championship banner to hang on the wall of the Pratt, too.

“It’s an honor to make it to the final game,” said head coach Jody Baker, who’ll bring the Orioles to their fourth championship appearance in five years Wednesday at the Derryfield School. “I’m all about tennis players for life, good sportsmanship for life, those are my primary goals, not the wins and losses. But the wins make you feel good.”

Friday’s win over Pelham was met with exuberance – and exhaustion – after a marathon at No. 2 doubles to seal the deal. Just like their previous matchup with the Pythons, Conant dropped their top three singles sets and won the bottom three, a testament to depth and resilience.

Nicci Munroe went down 8-2 to No. 1 Amira Eid and Lexi Smith fell 8-3 to Salihah Bogner at No. 2.

“I knew they had their hands full,” Baker said.

The Orioles had hopes of taking pressure off the doubles contests with a win at No. 3, but Ally Muller outlasted Kusum Aryal and won 8-4.

It was smooth sailing through the bottom of the ladder, where Delaney Hirsch dispatched Rachel Day 8-3, Sarah Smith shut out Kaitlyn Lafountain 8-0 and Abby Wheeler took out Sasha Burke 8-2. Tied at three wins each after singles, the match would come down to doubles.

Wheeler and Sarah Smith blew past Lafountain and Burke in no time, 8-1, and Conant needed one more win to get to the state championship.

It wouldn’t come at No. 1 doubles, where Munroe and Lexi Smith battled but lost 8-4. Aryal and Hirsch saw them walk off the court and knew it was on them to carry the Orioles. It wouldn’t be easy – the pair was down 5-2 at the time, in a deep hole and on the verge of elimination.

“We had to win it for the team,” Hirsch said.

“We just had to act more like family out there,” Aryal said. “We have to act like she’s the yin to my yang.”

They buckled down, Hirsch patrolling the back line and hitting crosscourt returns, setting Aryal up to poach at the net and smash overheads.

It worked. The 5-2 deficit was erased in short order as they tied it at 7-7 and then put Pelham away 9-7, Aryal running to embrace Hirsch, disbelief and joy evident on her face.

“They have heart,” Baker said. “They don’t give up.”

The Orioles will squeeze in one more practice Tuesday and then take on No. 1 defending champions Bow – the only team to beat Conant in the regular season – for the title Wednesday. The Falcons are formidable, rolling in on a 34-win streak after beating No. 4 Littleton 9-0 Friday. But if anyone can beat them, it’s the Orioles, who won their first state title in 2016 by beating Bow. Hirsch was a member of that championship team, and though she wasn’t in the top six back then, the experience was priceless.

“I learned a lot from the girls on the team a couple years ago,” Hirsch said, “so I’m ready to play.”

Aryal was brimming with confidence after the win. She was undefeated at singles against Bow this year, as the Falcons won 6-3 the first time around and then looked dominant in their rematch, winning 8-1. And after winning a basketball championship earlier this year, Aryal wants to keep that confidence going from winter to spring.

“It really pumps me up,” Aryal said, “makes me more confident to be part of a Conant team, have these girls surrounding me, they’re family, so it’s good to be surrounded by family all these times we make ‘ships.”

 

BOYS’ TENNIS

The Conant boys’ playoff run ended in the semifinals on Thursday against Bow. Both No. 1 Sigmund Winiecki and No. 2 Chris Newton won at singles and remained undefeated on the season, with Winiecki taking it 8-2 over  Brayden Binder and Newton winning 8-3 over Zack Mullen. That was it for Conant, though, as they couldn’t muster another win at singles or doubles and lost the match 7-2. No. 2 Bow takes on No. 1 Gilford for the title on Tuesday at the Derryfield School.