FORTVILLE — New Palestine senior No. 1 singles player Amelia Fleetwood set in her stance, lofted the ball into the air and torqued her arm back as the wind steadily swirled across the court.
Swinging her racquet hand forward at maximum speed, the wind gusts immediately came into play, reaching near 45 mph and decelerating the ball quickly.
A few courts away, the Dragons’ No. 1 doubles team of sophomore Josee King and senior Katie Settergreen met similar challenges during the first round of the Mt. Vernon tennis sectional.
Facing the headwind and hitting with the same violent breeze at their backs, often the ball had a mind of its own Wednesday afternoon.
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“When you were serving you had to be sure on your toss because the wind really took it,” King remarked as a gust howled through the court fencing at Mt. Vernon High School. “And then, the ball would go over our heads at times.”
While both the New Palestine Dragons and the Pendleton Heights Arabians contended with both postseason nerves and windy conditions, the match remained close until the end.
The Arabians, who lost to New Palestine 3-2 last Friday, turned the tables, winning the rematch 3-2.
Pendleton Heights senior Sam Hammel won 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 singles for the team’s first point to improve to 17-1 on the year. Sophomore Gracie Criswell earned another crucial point in a three-set match at No. 3 singles 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.
The Arabians’ No. 2 doubles tandem of Brielle Boynton, a senior, and Claire Goodwin, a junior, rallied back to win 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 for the victory.
Pendleton Heights will now move into today’s semifinals to face Greenfield-Central. Host Mt. Vernon will play Eastern Hancock in the other semifinal, with the championship Friday.
“I think (the wind) was the same for everybody today. We practiced in the wind and we shortened our swings, and I thought our girls did well,” New Palestine head coach Des Evans said. “A lot of the strategy that we tried was there, but we just couldn’t execute it. That doesn’t take anything away from Pendleton.”
The match was tied at 2-2 at one point after New Palestine senior Lexi Miller won at No. 2 singles 6-1, 6-2. King and Settergren, who improved to 10-3 on the year, won 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
While the team ultimately lost, the Dragons’ No. 1 doubles duo will advance into the individual state tournament next week.
“It’s kind of sad, but it’s nice that we at least get to be a part of our team that’s moving on. It might not be the whole team, but at least a piece of us go on and hopefully winning more,” Settergren said.
Settergren and King credited their communication as a twosome for their win against Pendleton Heights’ Gabby Kramer and Susie Kramer. Settergren missed two weeks of the season due to illness, so they are continuing to develop their partnership, but they took a major step forward under the sectional spotlight.
“I think we’ve definitely improved individually and as a whole,” Settergren said. “Together as a doubles team we’ve improved a ton and keep growing together.”
In their last meeting against the Arabians, the doubles team won 6-4, 6-0 after trailing 4-3 in the first set.
The Arabians also scored points at No. 1 singles and No. 2 doubles in their previous match against the Dragons. This time, they found a way to seize the deciding match.
“I think going into it since we had the momentum and this expectation to win it was like we were extra hard on ourselves to win,” Settergren said. “It put extra pressure because we just played them last Friday, so it’s not a very big time gap to practice on the things we needed to win today.”
New Palestine junior Ivey Simmons, who won 6-1, 6-3 in her match against Criswell on Friday, won the first set on Wednesday, but the points eluded her in the next two sets.
“We had opportunities. We won the first set in two dubs as well, but we let them get back in the second set. They had opportunities and took them,” Evans said.
While disheartened by seeing their season conclude, Evans and the Dragons took solace in their 11-7 record, which was a vast turn around from last year’s 5-10 performance.
“It’s disappointing, but me being a sophomore, I’m looking toward next year, coming back and hopefully winning next time,” King said. “You learn a lot from this. You learn to pick yourself back up and go at it again.”
Pendleton Heights 3, New Palestine 2
No. 1 singles: Sam Hammel (PH) def. Amelia Fleetwood (NP) 6-3, 6-3
No. 2 singles: Lexi Miller (NP) def. Bailey Davis (PH) 6-1, 6-2
No. 3 singles: Gracie Criswell (PH) def. Ivey Simmons (NP) 2-6, 6-2, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: Katie Settergren/Josee King (NP) def. Gabby Kramer/Susie Kramer (PH) 6-3, 6-2
No. 2 doubles: Brielle Boynton/Claire Goodwin (PH) def. Lauren Didelot/Cassie Willhelm (NP) 6-2, 2-6, 6-4