A complete rundown of Division II East/Southeast District tennis results have not been made available to the Daily Times as of press time Wednesday evening. The Daily Times will have a complete rundown of all district qualifiers when the official results are made available.
To put together clutch performances, it takes nerves of steel to accomplish such a feat.
However, one wouldn’t expect a sophomore and a freshman to show off those kind of qualities against top-notch competition so early in their high school careers.
But the doubles tandem of Kaitlyn Sommer and Maddie Gill aren’t your normal doubles tandem.
Last Wednesday, the duo not only won a match at the Division II East/Southeast District Tournament in Athens, but went far enough en route to clinching one of just two available slots at the state level. The duo only fell to Logan Elm’s talented doubles tandem of Shelby Ward and Abby Stroup, and clinched a spot by defeating Dover in a tiebreak in a doubles match on the campus of Ohio University.
For Wheelersburg head coach Jodi Wright, watching Gill and Sommer clinch one of the two berths awarded to the Division II East/Southeast District realm brought a feeling of euphoria to her heart.
“It’s amazing,” Wright said. “I can’t explain how it felt to sit there and watch them put those last couple of points away in the tiebreak. To watch them dig down that deep — it shows that they both really wanted it. It’s great. It’s a good feeling.”
Throughout the affair, Sommer’s play at the net — along with Gill’s wonderfully placed serves — aided the Pirates as the top Wheelersburg doubles tandem rolled through most of its competition.
“Kaitlyn and Maddie did a really good job,” Wright said. “Kaitlyn’s definitely a force to be reckoned with in the net. She puts them away. When Maddie’s at the baseline and Kaitlyn’s at the net, they’re going to be a tough combination to beat. Maddie’s got some great down-the-line shots that are just awesome. She really sets the defense up with some good shots, and as a result, the girls are able to stay offensive most of the time. Even when they have to play a defensive shot here or there, they’re able to get the momentum back, jump back in, and make it their game and their point.”
Since both players have played alongside each other since they were essentially of kindergarten age, their experience as individual tennis players, along with their experience playing together as a unit, certainly didn’t hurt in the pair’s run to a state-qualifying slot.
“The experience that they’ve had since they were little carries them and helps them with that poise,” Wright said. “It gets them through those pressure situations. In doubles, you do have that other person beside you to rely on, and they went back-and-forth picking each other up and making sure that they each felt comfortable in the situation.”
Additionally, Wright believes that the youth, and the overall expectations because of said youth, may have aided Gill and Sommer in their cause.
“The pressure isn’t as high as whenever you’re a senior, and it’s all that you’ve got left,” Wright said. “There’s no expectations there, and they can just go and play what they like to play, how they like to play, and have a good time. Whatever happens, happens, because as freshmen and sophomores, they’re not expected to go to state. So I think that does help a little bit, as well.”
With their runner-up finish in Division II East/Southeast District play, Gill and Sommer will move on to the Division II OHSAA State Tournament, which will commence on Friday and Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. There, a matchup between the doubles pairing of Rachel Buchinsky and Priya Khadilkar — a combo from Shaker Heights Laurel — awaits the duo.
“We’ve got a few things to work on that I saw from a strategy standpoint,” Wright said when discussing what needed to be fine-tuned before state. “Dover was able to separate them a little, which is not what you want to happen with a doubles team. So we’ve got some fine-tuning and some things to work on. But they’re working well together. They’ve always had lessons together since they were little, and they are good communication partners. They’ve got a lot of trust. They know that they’ve got each other’s backs.”
However, regardless of the ultimate result, Wright is awful proud of her duo — which is, by the way, the youngest duo of all of the state qualifiers in the OHSAA Division II realm.
“I’m really proud of them,” Wright said. “Normally, you see a lot of doubles players get frustrated in those high-pressure situations. Neither one of them got frustrated with the other. They really held together, supported each other, and kept each other pumped up.”
For more regarding the efforts of Kaitlyn Sommer and Maddie Gill, check out the Daily Times in full print version or go to portsmouth-dailytimes.com in the days following the state tournament.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7