Believing It: Warriors advance to states for first time

Alexa Venturado returns a shot from Salem's Leonie Brenzinger during their Region 4A West semi-finals held Wednesday in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando girls tennis coach Trevor Johnson has been encouraging his players all season to believe in themselves. On Wednesday, that belief was strong enough to carry the Warriors into the state tournament.

Sherando used its depth to pull out a 5-2 victory over Salem in the Region 4A West semifinals. It is the first-ever state berth for the Warriors.

“After every single practice our cheer is ‘1-2-3 believe,'” Johnson said. “I think after that first Handley match (a 5-4 win on April 12), they squeaked it out and I was like, ‘Girls, you should have won better than that.’ The next time they won 8-1 (on April 25). So they knew. I think they responded to that, and they’ve responded each time. They’ve done a really good job of that. I think they really are believing now that they can play with anybody.”

Sherando (17-1) jumped out to an early lead in four of the six singles matches and didn’t look back.

The Warriors took the early team lead with a 6-1, 6-1 win by Abby Sears over Salem’s Ashlyn Pugh at No. 3 singles in just 49 minutes. Just three minutes later, Sherando senior Alisa Van de Crommert finished off a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Salem’s Kennedy Haga at No. 5 singles.

Abigale Lukens returns a shot from Salem's Izzy Danstrom during the Region 4A West semi-finals held Wednesday at Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The singles match went really well. My serves were very good. I just have to keep in the game because it was very hot,” Van de Crommert said. “… In the second set I was a little bit frustrated because of lobs, but I pulled it out.”

The Warriors stretched their lead to 4-0 in just an hour and five minutes with wins by Sarah-Beth Blaney at No. 4 singles (6-3, 6-0) and Meredith Gregg at No. 6 singles (6-1, 6-3).

“It was good. It got hot definitely towards the end,” Gregg said. “I started feeling the heat definitely, but I was able to kind of calm down a little bit.”

Salem was able to win matches at No. 1 and 2 singles. Salem’s Leonie Brenzinger defeated Sherando’s Alexa Venturato, 6-2, 6-2. Salem’s Izzy Danstrom beat Sherando’s Abigale Lukens at No. 1, 6-2, 6-2, in an hour and 31 minutes, to cut the lead to 4-2 and force the match to doubles.

In the postseason, team matches are stopped once one team reaches five points. Due to the Warriors finishing off their postseason matches quickly, Wednesday was the first time in the postseason that they had to play doubles.

“Every practice I’ve been telling them one of these matches we’re going to need doubles,” Johnson said. “So we’re still going to work on things. You all need to realize that we might need the doubles and now let’s be ready.”

The Warriors showed they were ready and had no signs of rust. There was little drama on the courts Wednesday, but the biggest one may have been which doubles team was going to finish its match first.

Sherando’s Gregg and Kathryn Robertson were able to finish off their match at No. 3 doubles, just before Venturato and Van de Crommert did at No. 2 doubles.

“We were like who can get it first?” Van de Crommert said. “We were like two points away. We didn’t realize how close they were, and we were like, ‘We can do it.'”

Gregg and Robertson defeated Salem’s Haga and Abby Hoback, 6-2, 6-1 to clinch the match.

Robertson said it was tough to steady her nerves when she was serving in the last game.

“I just kept thinking if I get this serve in and we win this point, we’re going to go to states,” Robertson said. “So it was kind of nerve wracking, but I kept telling myself, ‘Calm down.'”

The top-seeded Warriors host E.C. Glass on Friday in the Region 4A West final. The winner of that match will host a Group 4A state semifinal either Monday or Tuesday of next week, while the loser will go on the road for a state semifinal match.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Van de Crommert said of advancing to the state tournament. “It’s my senior year. It’s like the first time girls tennis has ever gone to states. So it’s a good way to end senior year.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com