By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline came into Tuesday's match with Northwestern District powerhouse Handley with plenty of confidence. The two teams were tied for first in the district and the Hawks were hoping to do something only one other district team has done in the last 17 years -- beat Handley.
The Hawks put up a strong fight, but in the end came up short in a 6-3 defeat to a short-handed Handley squad.
"We had some ups, and we had some downs," Skyline coach John Natalie said. "When you're playing Handley you know you're playing the team that hasn't lost a district match in longer than I've been coaching.
"You always know that you're going to be in for a big fight."
The Judges were without top singles player Kathryn Bock due to an injury, and so everyone in the lineup had to move up a spot.
With the Hawks (7-4, 3-1 Northwestern) trailing 4-1, they made a rally in singles. At No. 3 singles, Skyline's Alex Zarzuela staved off defeat and rallied for an 11-9 win over Handley's Leland Damron.
"I tried to keep it steady in the beginning, but Leland's a good player," Zarzuela said. "I was actually down most of the game and then when it was 9-9 I figured I should play my game. So, when I started hitting my shots I felt more confident in myself, and I took the last game."
Damron was up 8-6, but Zarzuela broke serve in a two-deuce game to pull within 8-7. Damron broke Zarzuela's serve again for a 9-7 lead, and served for the match.
The next game went two deuces, before two errors helped Zarzuela pull to within 9-8.
"I was trying to keep it consistent," Zarzuela said. "Usually I try to work angles during my game, but I told myself to keep it closer to the center -- keep it steady."
Zarzuela broke Damron's serve again, and then served the match out with a couple of service winners.
Handley co-coach Trevor Scott said Damron injured her back during the match, but he was still proud of how hard she fought during the match.
"She played probably as good as I could have imagined," Scott said.
At No. 6 singles, Skyline's Alayna McEathron knocked off Handley's Margaret Sublett, 10-7. The match was close throughout, but McEathron broke serve for a 9-7 lead, and then survived a six-deuce game to win 10-7.
"Obviously, Alayna McEathron was outstanding at No. 6 -- hitting the ball with lots of pace," Natalie said. "When you're the 6 and you can put a lot of pace on the ball you're going to be winning a lot of your matches."
The Judges got off to a quick 4-0 lead in singles, before the hawks made things interesting going into doubles.
Handley (5-2, 4-0 Northwestern) clinched the team win at No. 1 doubles as Handley's Jessie Nolan and Maddie Skedsvold beat Skyline's Julie Hoverter and Ashleigh Salyers, 10-1.
"I think we played really well as a team today," Nolan said of the No. 1 doubles match. "She set up a lot of shots for me to put away a volley. And she did a great job at defending herself at the net, because they were hitting balls at her all the time."
The Judges have been pushed too often in district matches over the last 17 years, their last loss coming in 2004, but Nolan said it was nice to play strong competition in the district.
"It definitely is nice and refreshing to be challenged so much," Nolan said. "And it's good for all of our girls to see what's out there, and that we can't slack off at all. We have to keep working hard to get better."
Skyline's entire starting lineup was on a senior trip last week, and Zarzuela said the players were still trying to get back in a groove.
Despite the loss, the Hawks have even more reason to feel confident about the rest of the season.
"We've been playing [Handley] for five years," Zarzuela said. "So, we've seen it all. Throughout the years this was our goal [to beat Handley]. And I think we'll get it next time."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com