JASPER — Columbus North seniors Hannah Frey and Paige Littrell missed out on their graduation ceremony Saturday morning for a tennis match.
It was worth it.
Frey and Littrell watched sophomore Madelyn Sanders punch the Bull Dogs’ ticket to state with a thrilling come-from-behind victory at No. 3 singles to close out a 3-2 win against No. 22-ranked Evansville Mater Dei in Saturday afternoon’s Jasper Semistate.
“It’s shocking to me,” Frey said. “This team played incredible, and I’m so proud of them.”
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No. 23 North advances to the quarterfinals to face its Conference Indiana rival, No. 8 Terre Haute South. The match is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday at Carmel High School.
This is North’s fourth trip to the state finals as a team and its first since 2010.
“This is what we wanted to do for so long, and it is hard to believe that we actually did it,” Littrell said. “I couldn’t see this at the beginning of the season by just how we were, but we have a lot of talent on this team. We kept fighting, and we all had Madelyn’s back at the end, cheering her on.”
Sanders wound up clinching the victory for the Bull Dogs, but her match wasn’t easy early on against Anna McAtee. Sanders dropped the first set 6-3 and also dropped the first three games of the second set before coach Kendal Hammel had a conversation with her.
That conversation was apparently the turning point of the match, as Sanders was dialed in and never dropped a game from that point forward to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-0.
“He came up to the fence and told me it was 2-2 and it was up to me,” Sanders said. “I had to come through for the team, and I was saying that the road to state is through me. I was being too aggressive with my shots early, and I had to make the points longer in order to wear her out.”
Hammel was proud to see Sanders come through under the intense pressure.
“She looked up at me and told me, ‘I can do this,’ and her endurance just got better and better,” he said. “I give great compliments to Madelyn again for being the fighter and being in there and staying mentally tough.”
Mater Dei picked up the first point when Lauren Marx downed Aubrey Smith 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 singles. A few minutes later, Littrell tied the score up for North by defeating Alexa Elpers 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 singles.
North captured the lead when Yijiang Zhao and Shweta Srinivasan won against Grace Cox and Ellie Marx at No. 2 doubles, 6-3, 6-1. That lead lasted for only a couple of minutes, as Mater Dei tied it up when Michaela Karcher and Natalie Blair prevailed over Frey and Hannah Shoemaker 6-4, 6-1 at first doubles, setting the stage for the dramatic finish at No. 3 singles.
“It’s been six long years,” Hammel said, “but I am happy for these girls because they have a lot of heart and sacrificed a lot to get here to this point.”