April 7, 2024 at 11:13 p.m.

Patriots split to open

JCHS girls tennis beats Hagerstown but loses to Blackford for first time since 2014
Audrey Muhlenkamp of the Jay County High School girls tennis team hits a forehand in the match against Blackford on Saturday. Muhlenkamp and Courtney Harris – who were filling in for Zion Beiswanger and Chloe Ruiz – beat the Bruins No. 2 doubles duo in their varsity debut despite the Patriots falling 3-2. (The Commercial Review/Andrew Balko)
Audrey Muhlenkamp of the Jay County High School girls tennis team hits a forehand in the match against Blackford on Saturday. Muhlenkamp and Courtney Harris – who were filling in for Zion Beiswanger and Chloe Ruiz – beat the Bruins No. 2 doubles duo in their varsity debut despite the Patriots falling 3-2. (The Commercial Review/Andrew Balko)

The Patriots were without three of the seven starters.

Despite a slow start, two of the replacements took full advantage.

Courtney Harris and Audrey Muhlenkamp of the Jay County High School girls tennis team eked out a win in the No. 2 doubles position as the Patriots fell to the Blackford Bruins 3-2 to break a nearly decade-long streak.

Before the loss, the Patriots opened the day with a 4-1 victory against Hagerstown.

“I thought it went really well,” JCHS coach Andrea Garringer said. “We were missing three players, so that made the game totally different than what it normally should be. But I thought that the girls that we chose did a good job.”

The loss to Blackford ended an eight-year long winning streak against the Bruins (1-1) that saw the Patriots (1-1) win seven-straight.

“It feels good,” Blackford coach Brian Smith said. “We didn’t lose anybody from last year, so everybody’s getting better. Even the new ones are getting better so I’m really happy.”

The Tigers didn’t have a No. 2 doubles duo to match up with Harris and Muhlenkamp, allowing them to rest before they took on Loralie Hile and Karlie Pitts of Blackford. Harris and Muhlenkamp filled in for expected starters Zion Beiswanger and Chloe Ruiz who were unavailable for the match.

Nerves got to the duo in the first set, which they dropped 6-2 to the Blackford pair.

Despite the early falter, the duo kept a good mindset as they started the second set rather than being bothered about getting down early.

“I like to think with every new point it just starts over,” Muhlenkamp said. “We just get a fresh new mindset every time and get to keep going.”

They dropped the first game of the second match, but then traded games until it was tied at 6-6. The JCHS duo was down 6-4 in the tie breaker before they tied it at 6-6 on a backhand by Harris and eventually won 9-7 on an error by Pitts.

Again, the duo got down 8-5 during the super tiebreaker when Harris couldn’t return a serve. Harris and Muhlenkamp stayed clean the rest of the match, only surrendering one more point as Pitts and Hile started to commit errors. In the end, the JCHS duo won 2-6, 7-6 (9-7), 11-9.

The first-time varsity pair talked about how their communication helped them pull out the win.

“We did a very good job talking in between each point,” Harris said. “We would turn around, come together and talk about what we need to work on, while the other team was psyching themselves out a little bit. I think that worked to our benefit.”

The only other victory against the Bruins came from the No. 1 doubles pair of Meredith Dirksen and Sophia Sprunger. They quickly took down Jessica Brinkerhoff and Emily Ellison 6-0, 6-1 to secure the first win of the match for the Patriots.

They also made quick work of Hagerstown’s Kailyn Harrison and Mary Lach 6-2, 6-0.

Last season Brenna Bailey and Chloe Wicker matched up at the No. 2 singles spot, but Wicker has since been bumped up to No. 1 singles while Bailey was filling in for Brenna Haines. In their 2023 matchup, Wicker won 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 10-8. This year, she beat Bailey 6-0, 6-0 to get the match started.

“Last year, that was her first match, so she was a little tentative at first,” Smith said. “She got better as the season went on and has worked on some things to get even better this season.”

Bailey beat Avery Schmrtz of Hagerstown 6-1, 6-1.

Maggie Dillon beat Tigers’ Morgan Williamson in a marathon match before she had to take on Meeka Stalter in the No. 2 singles match. Being worn out from the first match, Dillon fell to Stalter 6-1, 6-2 to secure the victory for the Bruins.

The No. 3 singles match featured two players making their varsity debuts. Blackford’s Evelyn Gulley ended up taking down Faith Faulkner 7-5, 6-2.

Tessa Frazee filled in the No. 3 singles position for the Hagerstown match, losing to  Addie Vinson 6-1, 6-1.

“Overall, I thought we played well for our first matches,” Garringer said. “The weather was good, so we can’t blame that, but I’d like to see us hustle a little bit more.”

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