By Rob Kiser
TIPP CITY — One thing Lehman Catholic girls tennis coach Tim Ungericht can do is keep a secret.
But, after his doubles team of senior Sarah Gibson and junior Angela Brunner returned to the Schroeder Tennis Center to finish off a suspended match with Northwestern’s Leah Dotson and Allex Smith to determine who would advance to the D-II district tournament and won convincingly 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, he knew it was time to let the girls in on the secret.
“They had no idea this match qualified them for district,” Ungericht said. “We kept that from them.”
And their reaction told the story, as they both got big smiles on their faces and began celebrating.
“I had no idea,” Gibson said about advancing to next week’s district tournament at the ATP Tennis Center in Mason. “I figured we still had to win three matches Saturday.”
Brunner was equally surprised that Saturday’s semifinals and finals are only for seeding at district — they are officially Lehman girls tennis first district qualifiers since Julia Harrelson in 2013.
“I thought we had two or three matches, whatever it is on Saturday — and I thought we would have to win all those matches to get to district,” Brunner said.
And it was a culmination of Ungericht’s plan.
“This was a plan we put in place last year — for Angela (Brunner) and Sarah (Gibson) to go to district this year,” he said. “This is Sarah’s third straight year in the sectional quarterfinals — the last two years in singles. I told her, we played this out and gave it every chance, but it is just not there in singles. I told her that she and Angela would play doubles at sectionals this year and qualify for district.”
The girls weren’t as easily convinced.
“I know the coaches believed this would happen,” Brunner said. “But, we weren’t sure. Sarah hadn’t played doubles since her freshman year and we had never played together.”
But the duo, who played second and third singles for Lehman during the season, received the fourth seed and everything seemed to be on track until Mother Nature intervened Tuesday.
After a first-round bye, they had beaten Camillah Jones and Claire Wint of Tippecanoe 6-0, 6-4.
“That was a really good win,” Ungericht said. “That is a good team.”
Then, they won the first four games against Dotson and Smith and were up 5-1 before a rain delay.
After a short break they held on to the first set 6-3, but then storms forced a move to Schroeder’s.
They were down 2-0 at the time and lost the second set 6-4.
With no time to play a third set, they returned Wednesday to decide it.
“I don’t know,” Brunner said. “We just got messed up with all the delays and moving.”
While Lehman had a match Wednesday in the afternoon, most of the varsity players did not participate.
“We could have won 5-0 if they did,” Ungericht said. “But, that is OK. They came out and supported their teammates, then hit some balls to get loose.”
And when they took the court at Schroeder’s, they looked like the same team that had opened a 4-0 lead on Tuesday.
They got a break point in the opening game of the third set when Brunner drilled a passing shot down the doubles lane — then Gibson had a forehand winner on her return of serve at break point.
“That was huge to get the break right away,” Ungericht said.
Then, Gibson held her serve at love in the second game to make it 2-0.
“Angela (Brunner) hit four perfect volleys in row there on Sarah’s (Gibson) serve,” Ungericht said.
Still, the pivotal game may have been with Brunner serving at 3-0.
“I still wasn’t sure we were going to win at 3-0,” Brunner said. “Once I held my serve and it was 4-0, I knew we were going to win.”
Not, that it came easy.
Bruner faced two break points before holding her serve.
“That was big too,” Ungericht said. “Angela (Brunner) threw a couple doubles and we were down 15-40. But, she hit some big second serves to get through that game.”
Two games later, Lehman was headed to district.
“I don’t know if I expected it, but now I get to go to district with best friend,” Gibson said with a smile and a hug.
It brought back memories for Ungericht as team prepares for Saturday morning’s semifinal match with Milton-Union’s Meredith Fitch and Hannah Fugate — top seed.
“It was 30 years ago,” Ungericht said. “Chad (New) and I were playing a match to go to district. Just like them, we were the second and third singles players. It was the same situation, we lost the second set and had to play a third set, even though we should have beaten them easy.
“But, we won and went on to win the sectional and went to state. But, this (having two of his players qualify for district) is bigger. It is definitely bigger.”
And that’s no secret.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.