MIDDLEBURY — All of the current NorthWood girls tennis players were born the only other time the program won a regional championship — but none of them were only enough to remember it.
There's a good chance none of them will forget the night the school won its second one.
For the first time since 2009, the Panthers have punched their ticket to semi-state after defeating Concord, 4-1, in the Regional 12 championship match Wednesday at Northridge High School.
“It’s been a while,” said NorthWood coach Tif Schwartz, who was also coaching the team in 2009. “This has just been a really good group to work with. … This team just battles together. It doesn’t matter which court it is, everyone’s battling and they’re picking each other up. It’s a team effort, and that’s what we’ve strived for all season long.”
After senior Gabriella Umbower and sophomore Tatum Evers wrapped up quick wins at No. 1 singles and No. 3 singles, respectively, the championship was clinched at No. 1 doubles. After rallying from a 4-5 deficit to win the first set, 7-5, senior Amy Adams and junior Emery Porter won by a more comfortable 6-2 margin in the second set, sending NorthWood to the final 16 of the IHSAA state tournament.
“It was awesome,” Adams said. “I’m just glad we were able to clinch the win against Concord. Me and Emery have played them three times now, so it was just awesome to win again and clinch it.”
Umbower, who has played at the No. 1 singles spot for her entire three-year varsity career (2020 was canceled due to COVID-19), winning a regional in her senior season means extra.
“I’m so proud of us,” Umbower said. “Every single one of us on this team, we put in so much work. I feel like it’s really paying off this year, and I’m so happy that we get the chance to do this because it’s history. It just feels really good.”
Schwartz noted the performance of Evers as a standout for her. After playing a two-and-a-half-hour match in the regional semifinals against Westview Tuesday, the sophomore needed just under an hour to win in the championship tilt.
“I thought Tatum played amazing,” Schwartz said. “Having the match that she had (Tuesday) and the difference in style of play she has to play, for her to then come out (Wednesday) and be able to really dominate at that court was impressive.”
NorthWood junior Britton Jesse was the fourth winner for the Panthers, pulling out a 6-3, 6-3 victory at No. 2 singles.
Concord’s lone victory came at No. 2 doubles. With the team result already decided, the Minutemen duo of juniors Danielle Aplin and Mia McEachern still powered through, winning the second set, 6-4, and third set, 6-2, after dropping the opener by a 1-6 margin.
“I’m proud of all the girls,” Concord coach Todd Denton said. “NorthWood won our conference, and we battled with them. They were better than us, plain and simple. But we battled, and each day, we looked to get better. (Wednesday) was to get better for next year.”
While it was a tough ending to the season, the Minutemen (11-8) were able to avenge regular season losses to Northridge and Elkhart in the sectional, then beat Angola in the regional semifinals to reach Wednesday’s match. Only one player from the lineup graduates for Concord, too, in No. 1 doubles player Maggie Burkert.
“These girls worked hard in the offseason,” said Denton of his team. “A lot of them are multi-sport girls, but in the winter, they were working hard. … If we hadn’t had two girls play one of their best matches of the year, we wouldn’t have been standing where we are right now. Ari (Mosquera Sanchez) played a great match against Northridge (in the sectional final), and Esther (Williams) played a great match against Elkhart (in the sectional semifinals), and that was the difference.”
A great test now awaits NorthWood in semi-state. The Panthers (17-1) will get to face No. 4 Fishers, who won a regional title Wednesday by defeating No. 13 North Central, 3-2. The semi-state championship match is set to start at noon Saturday at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
NorthWood’s faced one other ranked team this year, losing to No. 19 Penn in a 4-1 match May 15 that was competitive on most courts. The Panthers won at No. 1 doubles that night, while three of the other courts had multiple close sets, showing that NorthWood can hang with some of the state’s best teams.
“We knew Penn was going to be good when they came in; they were ranked in the state as well, and we played pretty well with them,” Schwartz said. “I feel like we have nothing to lose (Saturday). We’re in a territory where we don’t know this other team; we haven’t really seen them before. We’ll just play to the best of our abilities, and good things can happen if we just continue to keep playing the way we have been and keep building on what we have.”
Fairfield junior Addison Mast was able to remain unbeaten on the season, improving to 22-0 overall with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Elkhart senior Adley Keim in an individual sectional tournament match. Mast will now play Lakewood Park Christian’s Lauren Korte in the sectional championship match Thursday at Northridge High School. The winner advances to the individual regional tournament June 3 at LaPorte High School.
The night wasn’t a total disappointment for Keim, as she was awarded the prestigious Catherine Wolf Award, which is presented annually to the top female high school athlete in Elkhart Community Schools. Per the award’s website, it is designed to “pay due recognition to a woman who, as a student, has made an outstanding contribution to the athletic programs of the Elkhart Community Schools.” Since the award started in 1979, Keim joins Emily Anderson (2021) and Madison Axsom (2022) as the only three people to receive the award as a merged Elkhart high school.
GIRLS TENNIS REGIONAL 12 CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH — Results
NorthWood 4, Concord 1
No. 1 singles: Gabriella Umbower (N) def. Ari Mosquera Sanchez (C), 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 singles: Britton Jesse (N) def. Esther Williams (C), 6-3, 6-3
No. 3 singles: Tatum Evers (N) def. Elizabeth Carnell (C), 6-1, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: Amy Adams/Emery Porter (N) def. Addison May/Maggie Burkert (C), 7-5, 6-2
No. 2 doubles: Danielle Aplin/Mia McEachern (C) def. Kaydence Dumka/Maddy Birk (N), 1-6, 6-4, 6-2
Individual sectional: Addison Mast (Fairfield) def. Adley Keim (Elkhart), 6-2, 6-2