ATHENS — Who knows if Wheelersburg’s Kaitlyn Sommer and Maddie Gill ride roller-coasters for fun-time thrills.
If so, perhaps they want to ride Kings Island’s Vortex one final time before it ceases existence at the end of the month.
But, they will have to do that on their own time at nearby Kings Island next Friday.
That’s because they have much more important matters at hand just across the street.
For the third and final time together, the senior Sommer and junior Gill have qualified for the Division II girls state tennis tournament — after capturing their second consecutive Southeast-East District championship on Wednesday at the Ohio University Tennis Center.
Gill and Sommer are now three-time state tournament qualifiers, following their three-match straight-set sweep through the annual district tournament.
On Wednesday, under sunny skies in Athens and a picture-perfect day for tennis, the Wheelersburg tandem swept the teams from Washington Court House, Circleville and Athens.
Gill and Sommer swept Sydnie Hall and Payton Maddox of Washington Court House in the quarterfinals 6-3 and 6-1, then dispatched Circleville’s Kara Hinton and Emma Shaw 6-1 and 6-2 in the semifinals.
That clinched their third state berth, as the top two doubles teams and top two singles individuals advance on.
They then exacted a measure of revenge on Athens’ Ami Brannan and Anna Chen, which edged them in a thriller for the Division II sectional championship last week.
Those two Bulldogs, in making their first-ever district appearance, bested Sommer and Gill in a hard-fought 4-6, 7-5 and 10-8 tiebreak.
On Wednesday, Wheelersburg won 7-5 and 6-4 to win the district championship.
The Southeast-East District tournament — for singles and doubles both — features six qualifiers from the Southeast District, and two from the East.
The Pirate pair only added to their record-setting careers, as they remain the only girls doubles team in Wheelersburg High School history to qualify for the state tournament.
“It feels absolutely amazing. It’s amazing to be able to have this opportunity and win it (district) again. It’s my last year, so I wanted to go out with a big bang, and I am,” said Sommer. “I wanted to go all the way to state one last time, and to be able to do it with Maddie. We’ve been here before so we’ve done it, so it was less nerve-wracking. It’s our third year and we’ve really worked for this. It’s probably been over 10 years that we’ve been playing and hitting together.”
Gill echoed Sommer’s sentiments.
It is the pair’s third trip to the state, but the two friends have played tennis together since their childhood years.
Hence, by now, it shouldn’t come as a shock that they punched their state tournament tickets — once again.
“It means a lot for us. We’ve been working for a really long time to make it this far,” said Gill. “We probably started when we were like five years old. We started really young and we’ve always played.”
This is also the third state trip for third-year Wheelersburg coach Jodi Wright, who discussed Sommer and Gill’s growth together — all the way up to Wednesday’s performance.
She was also “extremely excited” for their final top-two district showing, because “in no year is there a guarantee you are going to make it (state tournament).”
“They’ve had to work hard each year and overcome new things each year. They’ve done a good job of proving themselves to be the champions and school record-setters that they are,” said Wright. “They started as kids playing together. That’s why the first year of putting them together we knew it would be a good match. They knew each other, they were friends, they knew how each other played, they were used to taking lessons together. We knew it would be a good pair and they have shown that they are awesome together. They make themselves stronger. They are good singles players, but together, they are a really great doubles team.”
Speaking of singles, Sommer and Gill had played against Brannan and Chen as singles competitors, but the sectional was the first time they had faced them in doubles.
It helped on Wednesday, the Lady Pirates said, from having played them once.
“We already knew how they played from playing them last week. So we knew what we needed to do to win,” said Gill.
Wright said the heat, humidity and high temperatures had an impact at the sectional, which featured a third-set tiebreak instead of a traditional third set.
“If it would have went to three (sets), it might have been different, but that was the first time this season they had been challenged by a team that got points back so quickly. They had to think through their points a little bit more. But Maddie and Kaitlyn knew in their heads that they were close and they could make some changes to overcome them this week,” said the coach. “We worked on some things and it worked today.”
Sommer said simply that the Pirates’ execution in Athens was much better against the Bulldogs.
“Our shots were more accurate, we were doing angles, our serves were on today, so it helped us a lot to be able to compete against them,” she said.
Both sets were close again, as Wheelersburg won the opener 7-5, before the Bulldogs closed from a 5-2 deficit to 5-4 —before the Pirates pulled out the final game.
In fact, about the only hiccup on Wednesday on the part of the Pirates was a humorous one — when Gill drilled Sommer in the back by accident with a serve.
They quickly shook that off against Washington Court House, and less than six hours later, were repeat district champions.
Athens also advanced of course, as Chen and Brannan became the first girls tennis players — singles or doubles — from the Green and Gold to qualify for the state since 1994.
That year, Sara and Kelly Mickelson — the daughters of former Athens High School girls tennis coach Joan Mickelson — made it as a Division I doubles team.
This is the first season in which the Lady Bulldogs are represented at the Division II level.
But for Sommer and Gill, this is becoming old hat.
However, the pair has lost both of their opening matches at the state tournament — to be held once again inside the spectacular Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
This is also the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s 100th season of tennis, and so qualifying for this state tournament adds an extra element.
But, the Pirates’ primary goal this one last go-round is to win at least one bout — and be around for a subsequent second match.
“We really want to make it past that first round and maybe even farther,” said Gill.
If that happens, then perhaps Gill and Sommer can carve out extra time to ride the lameduck Vortex.
In addition to the doubles squad, Wheelersburg senior Cadie Jenkins competed at the district meet in singles competition.
Jenkins, who was the sixth-seeded qualifier from the sectional, faced top-seeded and now four-time state qualifier Sylvia Gray from Unioto.
Gray swept Jenkins 6-0, 6-0, as Gray — who defeated Adena’s Madelyn Shipley 6-1, 6-0 in the championship match — went on to capture the singles title.
This was Jenkins’ first, and final, appearance in the district meet.
“Cadie has worked really hard this past year and has added a lot of depth to this year’s team,” said Wright. “She was the only singles player in Scioto County and our conference (Southern Ohio Conference) to make it to districts and I believe she represented our area well.”
© 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved