MUNCIE — Ahead 2-1 in their third set against No. 13 Delta on Wednesday night, Mt. Vernon’s Brianna Partin and Emily Annakin glanced at one another and shared a laugh.

The ball had just zipped past them down the line for a Delta point, but it did nothing to spoil their mood.

“We’ve had a problem of playing tense, but when we have fun, it makes us better,” said Annakin, a junior No. 1 doubles player. “They’re a great team. Probably one of the best or better teams in the state. We didn’t have anything to lose. They had everything to lose.”

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Playing loose, Partin, a senior, and Annakin, an all-state honorable mention a year ago, had no complaints despite eventually losing the match 3-6, 6-3, 4-6 as Delta swept 5-0.

“I just wanted to stay positive. If they think you’re positive, it can intimidate them somewhat,” Partin said. “We wanted to win, but we’re more proud of how we played. This was probably the best match we’ve had all year.”

To date, the Marauders have had plenty to smile about.

Before losing to perennial power Delta and Indiana Tennis Hall of Fame coach Tim Cleland, Mt. Vernon was a perfect 4-0. They are ranked third in District 4, according to the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association, two spots behind Delta and four ahead of potential sectional foe Pendleton Heights.

Last weekend at home during their own invitational, the Marauders placed runner-up while winning two matches against No. 16 Marion.

No. 1 singles player Cassie York, an all-state honorable mention in 2015, suffered her first loss of the season during Saturday’s invitational. Her second came against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Delta and all-state player Emma Snider 6-2, 6-4.

“I like playing better players because it makes me a better player,” said York, who is 4-2 on the year. “It’s been a lot of fun this year, and we have a lot of great people. Playing these harder teams, it makes us play harder and will only help when we have to play those two matches on Friday (at county) and later in sectional.”

With the Hancock County tournament this week at Mt. Vernon, the Marauders are seeking a three-peat and a possible repeat of their sweeping dominance. Not only did Mt. Vernon win all five varsity titles in 2015, they also won every junior varsity county championship match as well.

“It’s not that we’re getting blasted off the court (against Delta). We’re competing with the No. 13 team in the state, and it’s showing we’re continually going on the uptick,” Mt. Vernon head coach Gabe Muterspaugh said. “You want to always be moving forward or up, and our girls are. They’re working really hard.”

With the exception of one match sweep at No. 2 singles, Delta had to earn every point. The Marauders battled throughout and narrowly lost a handful of 6-4, 6-3 sets.

Olivia Spicer pushed Delta’s Kim Schneider before falling 6-3, 6-4 at No. 3 singles.

Partin and Annakin, however, gave the Eagles the most fits, forcing a third set after dropping the first.

“I was most impressed and happy to see our one doubles; the light came on tonight,” Muterspaugh said. “If they play together, play under control and listen to coaches, good things happen. We’re really excited for them.

“Tim’s had a fantastic program forever, and I think we’re closing the gap, which is a good thing. Never happy when you lose, but it’s something for us to build on because we eventually want to get to North Central (for regional) and be competitive.”

Cleland, who has coached for 48 seasons (21 years as the girls coach) with nearly 900 career wins, believes Muterspaugh’s group is on the right path.

“They have a good team. I know they’re pretty excited to see what they can do,” Cleland said. “They’re a deep team.”

And they’re a confident bunch regardless of a mid-April setback.

“Our momentum has been really good so far. You can see us building as a team. Every single match, we’re getting better and by county I think we will be one of the strongest teams,” Annakin said.

“We want it,” Partin added. “We want that (county) title really bad.”

Scoreline

Delta 5, Mt. Vernon 0

No. 1 singles: Emma Snider (D) def. Cassie York (MV) 6-2, 6-4

No. 2 singles: Grace Belanger (D) def. Alaina Nelson (MV) 6-0, 6-0

No. 3 singles: Kim Schneider (D) def. Olivia Spicer (MV) 6-3, 6-4

No. 1 doubles: Sarah Ogle/Emily Decker (D) def. Brianna Partin/Emily Annakin (MV) 6-3, 3-6, 6-4

No. 2 doubles: Anna Groover/Jasmine Robinson (D) def. Maeve McCafferty/Sophie Williams (MV) 6-1, 6-1

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.