By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- For the last six years, girls tennis hasn't been a strong sport in Warren County. However, on Thursday Warren County and Skyline showcased just how far both programs have come.
The two county rivals fought it out to the end before Warren County rallied for a 5-4 win over Skyline in non-district action.
The teams split singles and Skyline took a 4-3 lead with a 10-3 victory by sisters Shannon and Julie Hoverter over Warren County's Emily Sullivan and Katherine Young.
That put the pressure on Warren County's No. 2 and 3 doubles and both matches went back and forth throughout. At No. 3 doubles, Warren County's Caroline Oxley and Brandee Kitzmiller pulled out a 10-8 win over Skyline's Rachel Dreschel and Presley Rutherford.
Oxley and Kitzmiller trailed early in the match, but rallied for a 9-6 lead and then had to hang on for the win.
"I think at the end we just played the way we could," Oxley said. "They are both good players. It was a tough match."
Dreschel and Rutherford rallied to cut the lead to 9-8, but Oxley was able to hold serve and close it out. Kitzmiller finished off the one-hour, 11-minute match with a forehand volley winner.
"It felt good to know that the match is over and you got the last point," Kitzmiller said of her final winner.
The victory was extra sweet for Kitzmiller, who had lost her first singles match of the season earlier in the day.
"It's tough to step back out on the court after suffering a loss like that," Warren County coach Jeanie Tallent said. "I was so happy to see the beam on her face after the doubles. I was just very proud of her."
At No. 2 doubles, Warren County's Sarah Kahler and Carol Ashley defeated Skyline's Tiara Skipper and Victoria Rogers, 10-8, in a one-hour, 20-minute match to seal the win. Kahler and Ashley built an 8-5 lead, but Skipper and Rogers battled back to even it at 8-8.
A forehand winner by Ashley and a Skyline error gave the Wildcats the break and a 9-8 lead. Ashley, a freshman, had the pressure of serving for the match to get the win.
"It was definitely stressful," Ashley said. "There was a lot of pressure, especially since sometimes I struggle to get my second serves in."
Before the game, Kahler gave Ashley a little pep talk to calm her down. The players said they used the team motto -- "fido" -- to motivate themselves.
"Fido is something coach [Tallent] came up with. It's, 'Fight it and drive on,'" Kahler said. "It helps us get it together."
The pair built a 40-15 lead, and two points later a Skyline error gave the Wildcats the team victory.
Skyline coach John Natalie was happy with his team. The Hawks (8-5, 4-1 Northwestern) lost to the Wildcats, 8-1, when they met earlier in the year.
"This is not even a close call. This was by far the best match we've played all year," Natalie said. "It took us playing our best just to have a chance at the end. Warren County is a very solid team. They are a very deep team."
The Wildcats (11-1, 3-1 Evergreen) were coming off a 5-4 win over Brentsville earlier in the week, and the players felt like playing close matches will help them down the road.
"It's great to play a match like this," Kahler said. "It's no fun shutting teams out. Winning close matches like this will definitely help us out and help us get better as a team."
Skyline is currently in second place in the Northwestern District and Warren County is in second in the Evergreen District. The two teams could play each other in regionals in four weeks and the stakes would be even higher.
"I think since we're in two different districts, it's made it an even nicer rivalry," Tallent said. "I knew they would be gunning for us this time and they played well. It was a tough match. It was too close for comfort."