Someone brought a puppy to Lambert’s girls tennis match Tuesday, and so everything was OK.
By then, there’d been enough dogs and pictures to help any frustrations dissipate after the Lady Longhorns’ 3-0 loss to Walton in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAA tournament.
“At the end of the day, it’s tennis,” Lambert head coach Lois Mickles said.
Lambert (16-1) couldn’t thwart a storied Lady Raiders program. Brenna Reilly lost 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, Madison Benefield and Jess Owen lost 6-3, 6-4 at No. 1 doubles and Vanessa Schrils and Lauren Townsend fell 7-6, 6-1 at No. 2 doubles.
Lambert knew this script well. Walton eliminated the Lady Longhorns in the second round of the state playoffs last season, a swift 3-0 defeat that offered no moral victories so thorough was Walton’s performance. That wasn’t unique. Walton pummeled many opponents last season. The Lady Raiders eventually went on to win their second straight state title and 12th in the last 14 seasons.
They may end up going 13-for-15 after Tuesday, for the Lady Longhorns entered the match confident they were the most likely team left in the playoffs to take down Walton.
Lambert provided glimpses of that potential, far more than it did against Walton last season. But each glimpse was fleeting, eventually giving way to the Lady Raiders’ supremacy.
Schrils and Townsend fell behind 5-2 in the first set against Walton’s Jessica Cramer and Sophia Guldberg trying to employ a new strategy they honed in practice the previous day. The hope was to come out aggressive and crash the net.
“It wasn’t really working for them,” Mickles said.
Schrils and Townsend dropped the new strategy and returned to the comfort of their groundstroke game. Soon enough it was 5-5. They had a chance, if only for that moment. Cramer and Guldberg rebounded to win the first set 7-6 and then cruised to a 6-1 victory in the second set.
“[Schrils and Townsend] came together, they calmed down, they made a run,” Mickles said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, but still, got to give them props for that. It’s not easy to come back in such a big match.”
Wakefield had one of the more daunting challenges. Her opponent, Suzanne Zenoni, is the No. 7 ranked player in Georgia by Tenniscruiting.net, No. 78 in the country. In November, she signed with Elon University. And then Wakefield beat her 6-4 in the first set.
By the time Wakefield lost the second set 6-2, Walton had already clinched the match.
“Caroline’s confidence has built up much more this year, and you could see it on the court,” Mickles said. “She controlled every match that she played this year. She’s really, really special.”
The finality of it all quickly set in. Mickles gave her last post-match speech of the season. The team took one more picture together with Owen, the only senior starter, held sideways in front by her teammates.
For a second, there was a thought toward next season. Lambert loses just Owen out of its starting lineup. Walton loses three players.
“Third times a charm,” Mickles said.