FORTVILLE — With every point on Wednesday night, Mt. Vernon head coach Gabe Muterspaugh took a step, followed by another.
Wearing a path on the adjoining tennis court as his 28th-ranked Marauders played Pendleton Heights in the Mt. Vernon Sectional quarterfinals, he stopped only a handful of times.
“All year long I’ve been so calm, and I told myself today I’m going to relax and let them play,” Muterspaugh remarked with a laugh. “Next thing you know, I’m pacing like a freaking mad man.”
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From one end of the court to the other, the 20-year coaching veteran cemented his stance in moments when speaking to assistant coaches Ashley Glant and Chris Zeilinga or to his players.
It wasn’t until the host Marauders’ crowd cheered near court one that he planted both feet for good.
With Mt. Vernon ahead 2-1, sophomore Alaina Nelson pulled the upset of the sectional quarterfinal, defeating Pendleton Heights’ junior Sam Hammel 6-4, 6-3 to seal her team’s eventual 3-2 win.
“Alaina puts a lot on herself and expects greatness from herself all the time. I’m excited about that from her,” said Muterspaugh shortly after he strolled over to Nelson for a congratulatory hug. “She’s an absolute warrior on the court, and she was tonight. I’m so proud of her.”
The first Marauders’ victory unfolded at No. 2 doubles as Sophie Williams and Maeve McCafferty cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 finish. Sophomore Olivia Spicer put Mt. Vernon up by one match after taking No. 3 singles 6-1, 6-0.
The Arabians tied it at 1-1 with a win from undefeated Emma McCardwell (18-0) at No. 1 singles 6-0, 6-1.
The last time the two teams met, Mt. Vernon prevailed 3-2 with Spicer and both doubles teams claiming valuable points.
The Arabians, who were ranked 28th during that match on May 3, nearly won before Mt. Vernon’s Brianna Partin and Emily Annakin seized a decisive third set 7-5.
In the highly-anticipated rematch between both Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals, the focus turn to execution, particularly for Nelson.
Losing 6-0, 6-0 to Hammel, she worked extensively with Zeilinga and entered the sectional prepared with a precise game plan.
“I tried to be more consistent because if I kept at it, I knew she would make mistakes,” Nelson said. “I didn’t as many balls to the sides because she’s really good at running back and forth, so I wanted to hit more balls in and keep consistent.”
The loss sparked a run of seven consecutive wins for Nelson while the team went an remarkable 35-0 run in matches since their 3-2 win against Pendleton. The streak reached 36 on Wednesday after five 5-0 dual wins and a 10-0 showing at the Hancock County Tournament on May 4.
“The loss really motivated me. I wasn’t on my game last time, and I really wanted to prove myself,” Nelson said. “I just wanted to win the next point and the next point. Once I won each point, I became more confident and motivated.”
Both teams entered as favorites to win the sectional with Mt. Vernon ranked third in District 4 and the Arabians sixth. Pendleton Heights (13-6), a newcomer to the Mt. Vernon Sectional, had won three consecutive titles. The Marauders are seeking their third straight and sixth in eight years.
“We wanted to play Pendleton tonight. We wanted to get it out of the way. We know we’ve been the other teams in the sectional, and this one was where if it goes to Friday night, the nerves are intensified even more,” Muterspaugh said. “It was (a blessing in disguise), looking at it now. But I feel like I played. I’m exhausted.”
The Marauders (15-1) advance into today’s semifinals at 5 p.m. when they will play New Palestine. Eastern Hancock and Greenfield-Central will compete in the other semifinal with the championship scheduled for Friday.
Mt. Vernon Sectional
No. 28 Mt. Vernon 3, Pendleton Heights 2
No. 1 Singles: Emma McCardwell (PH) def. Cassie York (MV) 6-0, 6-1
No. 2 Singles: Alaina Nelson (MV) def. Sam Hammel (PH) 6-4, 6-3
No. 3 Singles: Olivia Spicer (MV) def. Madilyn Moore (PH) 6-1, 6-0
No. 1 Doubles: Brandy Stoker/Haley Augsburger (PH) def. Emily Annakin/Brianna Partin (MV) 7-5, 4-6, 6-3
No. 2 Doubles: Sophie Williams/Maeve McCafferty (MV) def. Marie Claire Sizemore/Brielle Boynton (PH) 6-1, 6-2