With 38 varsity matches of experience during her freshman and sophomore seasons, Gabby Knight has found herself in some pressure situations. But prior to Saturday, she had never been in this situation: engaged in a full third set with a berth in the IHSAA Team State Finals on the line.
In a match that stretched nearly three hours, Gabby hung tough for a 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-4 comeback victory over Fairfield senior Faith Bontrager. The victory pushed the Eagles to a 3-2 championship over the Falcons in the Homestead Semi-State.
As a result, Delta (19-4) will face Oldenburg Academy at noon Friday, June 4 in the state tournament. This will be the Eagles’ fifth appearance in the Team State Finals in girls’ tennis, matching the school’s five trips to the boys’ state finals.
The final point of Gabby’s match was a microcosm of the whole day. She and her opponent locked in an extended rally, each waiting for an opening. Finally, Bontrager pounced on a short ball and attacked. Her quick shot toward Gabby’s backhand looked like it would send the game back to deuce again, but Gabby stuck out her racket quickly to block the ball and hit an incredible winning passing shot down the line.
Prior to Saturday, Gabby had never played a full three-set match in high school tennis. She went 9-3 as a freshman in a part-time role at No. 3 singles and is now 21-5 as a sophomore at No. 2 singles. Her 30-8 career record includes two matches that were settled in a third-set 10-point tiebreaker, but never a full third set previously.
Senior Madelyn Haley and junior Iva Witter found themselves in the same situation. Playing No. 2 doubles, they also played a full third set for the first time all season.
Madelyn and Iva won the first set 7-6 (3) over a pair of Fairfield seniors who entered with a 25-1 record. Fairfield claimed the second set 1-6, giving Madelyn and Iva a 10-minute break to regroup. Madelyn and Iva responded to the pressure and rolled to a 6-3 victory in the final set.
The victory extended Madelyn and Iva’s record to 20-4 this season, which is their first season of full-time varsity tennis and their first season ever playing together.
The third point from the Eagles on Saturday came much earlier in the day from No. 1 doubles players Maggie Hunt and Janet Wegener. They won 6-3, 6-0 to raise their record to 24-2.
Fairfield collected its first point from standout No. 1 singles player Addie Mast. She used her excellent all-court game and strong serve to defeat senior Gwendolyn Clark 6-2, 6-0.
At No. 3 singles, the teams engaged in another long and tight match. In the end, Fairfield senior Elyse Yoder edged Delta freshman Brylee Beckley. Beckley won the opening set 7-6 (7), then dropped the second set 1-6. After a 10-minute break, they played on even terms for the next hour before Yoder (26-1 this season) hit some huge serves in the final game to win 4-6.
That result tied the team match at 2-2 and set up Gabby Knight’s heroics.
Delta’s previous trip to the State Finals in girls’ tennis took place in 2000, 2011, 2018 and 2019. The Eagles finished third in 2000 and lost in the quarterfinals in 2011, 2018 and 2019.
Oldenburg Academy upset 11th-ranked and previously undefeated Franklin on Saturday by a 3-2 score. Similar to the Delta match, Oldenburg won at No. 2 singles and both doubles and won a three-setter at No. 2 doubles in the final match on the court.
Oldenburg and Delta played this season on April 16, with Delta winning 3-2 in the Eagle Round Robin.