By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Lauren Woodrell had to block out everything.
The Warren County senior couldn't think about the physical pain from blisters on her feet, the fact that she was in the middle of a grueling long match and, maybe most importantly, the score.
Woodrell blocked everything out and the Warren County senior erased a big third-set deficit to help the Wildcats knock off Loudoun Valley, 5-1, in the Conference 28 girls tennis tournament final on Monday. It was the first-ever district or conference title for the Wildcats.
"Coming back is the best feeling ever," Woodrell said after her three-hour, 25-minute match. "It's always good to win after being the underdog."
Woodrell was down 4-0 in the third set, but fought her way back against Loudoun Valley's Abbie Baird at No. 2 singles. Woodrell cut the lead to 4-2, and then Baird held serve to go up 5-2. During the changeover, Woodrell got a little extra motivation from Baird.
"I think I was almost ready to give up in that last set until she told me it was just tennis," Woodrell said. "[At 2-5, Baird said] 'It's just tennis. It's OK'. That was kind of enough for me to pull through."
Woodrell, who had to change her socks and get taped up several times for blisters on her feet, saved two match points each in the ninth and 10th games of the set.
She then broke Baird's serve to take a 6-5 lead and served for the match. A forehand winner and a service winner helped set up match point, and an error from Baird gave Woodrell a 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 victory.
"I honestly don't think I played my best today, but I think I played my most consistent that I've ever played," Woodrell said. "A three-and-a-half-hour match is just insane. Endurance has always been something that's not one of my strong suits, and to be able to play for three and a half hours, that's a major accomplishment for me."
Woodrell trailed 5-2 in the first set, but battled back to 5-5 only to lose the next two games.
In the second set Woodrell led 5-3, but Baird evened the set at 5-5. Woodrell broke Baird's serve at love and then put the set away in the next game on an overhead smash.
Warren County coach Jeannie Tallent said that she just tried to keep Woodrell calm and to stay in the moment.
"She came to me at one point and she goes 'I can't double fault' and I said, 'It's not about what you can't do. it's about what you can do, honey,'" Tallent said. "And that was our mantra for the rest of the time. And when she turned it around and took that [second] set it was the same way -- focus on what you can do."
Woodrell wasn't the only Warren County senior who had to rally for a win. Warren County's Morgan Walton also trailed 5-2 in the first set of her No. 3 singles match with Rachel Carlson, but battled back to force a tiebreaker in the first set.
"I had to make more strategic shots," Walton said. "I just had to hit better and play better. I just didn't give up."
Walton said she's played numerous tiebreakers over the years, but she doesn't like them.
"I hate them," Walton said of tiebreakers. "I hate them so much. They're too nerve-wracking."
Walton didn't let her disdain for tiebreakers show, as she started off quickly and rolled to a 7-2 tiebreaker victory. Walton would eventually win the match, 7-6 (2), 6-1.
"That tiebreak really put a positive swing on it for her," Tallent said. "I think it made her feel a lot better once she took that."
The Wildcats (12-2) trailed 1-0 after a victory by Loudoun Valley's Maddy Coffman at No. 1. Warren County freshman Pearl Moore beat Loudoun Valley's Julie Sargent, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 6, and at No. 4 Warren County sophomore Jayme Goode defeated Loudoun Valley's Taylor Thackaberry, 6-1, 6-1.
Warren County extended the lead to 3-1 with a win by senior Lauren Peterson at No. 5 over Loudoun Valley's Abby Watts. Peterson trailed 3-0 in the second set, but regrouped and ran off six straight games for a 6-2, 6-3 victory.
"The mental fortitude of these ladies is the most impressive thing," Tallent said. "And to be the seniors that they are. I looked at my freshman and the rest of them and said look what you've got to live up to now.
"Tennis is a mental game and if you keep it together, then that's what it's about. You have fun doing it and you stay positive."
The Wildcats will host Kettle Run, a 5-0 loser to James Monroe in the Conference 27 finals on Monday, on May 26 in the 3A East Regional quarterfinals.
For at least a little while longer, they can relish on becoming the first district or conference champions in program history.
"To be conference champs, for it to be coach [Tallent's] last season, and to be able to give that to her and not only that, but be the first girls tennis team to win a banner at all to put in our gym -- it's great to say I was a part of that," Woodrell said. "Basketball season I did that, and I got to do it again in tennis. It's great to make history more than once. It's great just to make history once."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd