Warriors win regional tennis title

Sherando's Abby Sears dinks a shot from Handley's Josie Sydnor at the net during the Region 4A West girls tennis tournament final Friday morning in Stephens City. Sears won the match 6-3 6-3. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jim Laise

STEPHENS CITY – – Sherando High School girls’ tennis coach Trevor Johnson brought a change of clothes with him Friday when his Warriors knocked off Handley 5-0 to take the Region 4A West finals tournament at home.

He told no one — certainly not his team. That’s not his style.

But when the red-and-black clad Warriors dumped a bucket of water on him on the court after the match, he let them in on the secret.

“I had so much faith in you I brought a change of clothes and a towel,” said the 2016 Northern Virginia Daily coach of the year.

Sherando's Alexa Venturato returns a volley to Handley's Meredith Watts during the Region 4A West girls tennis tournament final in Stephens City on June 2. The Warriors will play Hanover in the Group 4A state final in Roanoke on Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Sherando had beaten Handley three times already this season, but that was not the reason the quick-change coach brought along dry wear.

Instead, it was a 5-1 victory over Freedom in the semifinals match that set his mind at ease.

“Freedom was really good, really good,” Johnson said. “So when we beat them I told the girls there was no reason we couldn’t win again in singles.”

Sherando did just that.

Only No. 1 Alexa Venturato, who continues to deal with a hip issue, fell behind in her singles match. That one might have gone to Handley’s Meredith Watts, who led 6-2, 2-1. But the first singles competitors were retired when Sherando picked up its match-clinching fifth singles win of the day.

“I am just so proud of my team. Even when I wasn’t playing, I was rooting hard for them. This is a testament to their hard work,” said Venturato, a sophomore who returned to the court a match ago after suffering with her hip.

She said she was currently 50 percent healthy and was stretched out several times between games.

The victory for Sherando (21-0) – – the fourth this season and the seventh in a row over Handley — will put them into the Group 4A state seimifinals, which will be at home against Jamestown at 1 p.m. Monday.

Handley (14-7) will visit Hanover at 1 p.m. Monday.

Both teams had qualified for the state tournament, so Monday’s match was about deciding home court advantage.

A year ago, Sherando lost in the regional finals and then lost again to eventual state champion Midlothian, so the Warriors are where they were a year ago.

Under bright sunshine, the Warriors won matches including their second-through-fifth players.

Abby Sears defeated Josie Sydnor 6-3, 6-3; Sarah-Beth Blaney knocked off Lillian Smith 6-4, 6-1; Kathryn Robertson dropped Laurel Griffin 6-2, 6-2; Meredith Gregg won over Meredith Larsen 6-1, 6-0 and Maddy Woolover topped Cat Love 6-1, 6-1.

Larsen was subbing in for Handley’s regular fifth player, Emma Capitano, who has been out with a sprained ankle.

“Our goal today was to play loose and have fun,” said Handley coach Martha Johnson, “that’s the way it had been leading up to this.”

Handley had defeated Fauquier County and Heritage earlier in the tournament, “playing loose,” said Johnson, so the Judges hoped to carry in that attitude to the Sherando-Frederick County Parks outdoor courts.

“I think the nature of the rivalry has really picked up,” said Martha Johnson, “so with that comes intensity and a certain pressure that maybe wasn’t there before. We wanted them to forget about that and just go out and play.”

Though a group of maybe 150 spectators gathered around the courts cheering for each team, several players showed the ultimate respect.

No. 2 Sears and adversary Sydnor, for instance, attended pre-school at First Presbyterian Church in Winchester.

After the Sherando player won out, she and Sydnor embraced on the court.

“We went together when we were real young though we never played tennis growing up,” Sears said. “But we’re friends and this is a good rivalry and we wanted to show that.”