NHIAA D-I Girls' Tennis Championship: Exeter, by the width of a net
MANCHESTER — Exeter High School junior Rachel Salzman will take it.
So, too, will her tennis coach, Lisa Packard, and her Blue Hawk teammates.
Locked in a tight match that featured long points and went to a tight tiebreaker against Bedford’s Anli Zhang, Salzman hit a forehand shot that caught the top of the net and dropped onto Zhang’s side of the court.
Game. Set. Championship.
Let the celebration begin.
“That was awesome,” Packard said. “It wasn’t just believable. It was awesome.”
The net-cord point made Salzman a winner of her match at No. 5 singles, 9-8 (7-5), and gave Exeter, playing in the final for the first time, its first title with a 5-4 Division I win over previously undefeated Bedford on the courts at Manchester West High School.
Salzman came off the court and began celebrating with her teammates.
The thing was, though, she thought she was just celebrating her own win.
She didn’t realize her victory had clinched the title.
“I had no clue,” Salzman said. “I think I hugged at least three people before I figured it out. It was definitely delayed.”
Exeter closed out with a 15-2 record.
The Bulldogs finished off a super season with a 16-1 record and second straight runner-up trophy.
“It was a heartbreaker,” said coach Kristen Perez. “We knew it was going to be a good match. It came down to a couple of courts, a couple of points and some real close matches. A net-cord on match point is painful. . . . We were down on some courts and came back. They were fighting out there.”
Bedford junior Julie Aichinger, who dropped an 8-5 decision to senior Katie Wood at No. 1, agreed.
“We gave it our all,” she said. “I’m proud of our team.”
Salzman’s triumph gave Exeter wins in five of the six singles matches and put the title away before the championship got to doubles.
Packard was thankful for that.
When the teams met late in the regular season, they split their six singles matches.
“They cleaned our clock in doubles,” Packard said.
Bedford swept the three doubles and won that match, 6-3.
“I knew we needed to win a lot of the singles matches,” Packard said.
“We essentially had to win it in singles,” Wood said.
And they did.
Exeter also got wins from freshman Melissa Woods, who beat junior Anna Corrao, 8-4, at No. 2; from sophomore Katie Lietz, who beat Anitha Machupalli, 8-4, at No. 4; and junior Abby Aleksa, who beat freshman Maylene LaPress, 8-6, at No. 6.
Sophomore Abby Ramsay got the Bedford singles win with an 8-5 triumph over junior Anna Heard at No. 3.
Bedford won all three doubles matches.
Wood, the only senior on the courts for singles, and Salzman each had to dig out of a big hole to get a win.
Wood trailed 5-2 in her match and ran off the last six games.
Salzman came from even further back. She was down 7-2.
“I just played every single point like it was the last point,” she said.
The approach worked and Salzman ended up in the tense tiebreaker with the title riding on it.
Hers was the only match left on court.
“I couldn’t watch,” Wood said. “I had to look away. Katie Lietz was telling me what was happening.”
Lietz told her about Saltzman’s forehand hitting the top of the net and falling on the other side.
“Our first title ever and I’m a senior,” Wood said. “I couldn’t have written a better end to senior year. I’m just overjoyed.”