May 4—MIDDLEBURY — Northridge girls tennis coach Austin Christner feels like his team has flown under the radar this season, despite their No. 24 ranking in the coaches' poll.
They're under the radar no more.
The Raiders picked up a victory over No. 9 Penn, 3-2, Monday night in Middlebury. Northridge improved to 9-0 in match play with the win.
"Going into (Monday) and Saturday (at the Homestead Invitational), we were definitely trying to prove that this team is flying under the radar," Christner said. "This is a very good team; very good team. These girls have put in a ton of work in the offseason, and now they're going out and showing it. Our schedule is getting tougher and tougher, and we love it. These are the fun ones."
THE DECISIVE MATCH
Penn picked up wins at the No. 1 and No. 3 singles positions, while Northridge was victorious at No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles. This left the No. 1 doubles match between Northridge's Peyton Kieper and Brynne Gayler and Penn's Marley Kryder and Neely Langfeldt as the match that would determine who'd win.
Both sets between the pairs were back-and-forth affairs. The first set ultimately went to a tiebreak, which Kieper and Gayler won, 7-5.
"I just knew that it's much easier to come back after winning the first set, and we had fought so hard to get (to the tiebreak) that it just meant everything," Kieper said. "I knew that getting that first set was going to give us the momentum to finish (the match)."
Kryder and Langfeldt would take an early 2-1 lead in the second set, but the Raider duo stormed back to win the next three games and take a 4-2 lead in the set.
"We really just had to strategize," said Gayler on the key to their second-set comeback. "They were hitting some good ground strokes, so we just started lobbing and coaching at the net. When we changed that, it really helped and that's how we got up."
Penn would win the next two games, however, to tie it up at four apiece. With the Kingsmen serving, the ninth game of the set proved to be the tightest. The game reached 40-40 on two different occasions before Kieper and Gayler were able to win the decisive point, going up 5-4 in the set with a chance to serve for the win.
"It really makes the other team be on their toes because they know that this is it," said Kieper when asked how important it was to win that ninth game. "It just puts us more on the offensive side so we can just come in and finish it, rather than being nervous."
With Kieper on the serve, the Raiders were able to close out the set and match to win, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. Kieper and Gayler's teammates ran onto the court to celebrate the overall team win.
"They're seniors; they have experience," said Christner of his No. 1 doubles pairing. "I think, the first set, they weren't playing their best, but they did enough to hang around. And then that second set, they started to hit their groove, but (Penn) started playing better as well. That was some high-quality doubles in that second set, that's for sure. I think (Kieper and Gayler) stepped up in the key moments, and that was the difference in the match."
NO. 2 SINGLES, NO. 2 DOUBLES IMPRESS
Northridge picked up comfortable wins at the No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles positions.
Lilah Dean had a 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 2 singles. Christner said having the talented sophomore at the second singles position is a luxury most teams don't have.
"We have the advantage of truly having two No. 1 singles players," Christner said. "Lilah and Riley (Whitley) are very, very close in skill, and so we have a huge advantage ... (Dean) thrives for the big matches, and you can tell (Monday) she was fired up, ready to go from the first ball to the last ball. It's fun to see."
At No. 2 doubles, the senior duo of Taylin Cress and Clarisa Schmidt had no issues with Penn, winning 6-2, 6-1. Cress and Schmidt scored a lot of their points around the net, which has been a point of emphasis from Christner.
"I think, from the beginning of the year until now, (Monday) was the peak; the highlight for me," said Christner of his No. 2 doubles pairing. "To see them just dominate the net and what we call 'animals' at the net; just be absolute animals and go after every ball that you can get your racket on. ... To see them do that from beginning to end — they were phenomenal."
After a big win over a highly-respected Penn program, Gayler is hoping this opens some eyes across the state about the talent of this year's Raiders team.
"It feels so great to beat Penn, especially because they're ranked ninth in the state," Gayler said. "I really hope our ranking goes up after that. We're super pumped to finish that match."
Northridge 3, Penn 2
No. 1 singles: Jamie Hurst (P) def. Riley Whitley (N), 6-3, 6-1
No. 2 singles: Lilah Dean (N) def. Mandy Baker (P), 6-3, 6-0
No. 3 singles: Sophia Pischalko (P) def. Maia Schmucker (N), 6-3, 6-3
No. 1 doubles: Peyton Kieper and Brynne Gayler (N) def. Marley Kryder and Neely Langfeldt (P), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4
No. 2 doubles: Taylin Cress and Morgan Mack (N) def. Clarisa Schmidt and Maren Woelfer, 6-2, 6-1
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.