The Newton girls tennis team headed to the Johnston Invitational with the deck stacked against it.
After a great meet to begin the season, the Cardinals came out a little more flat in their next meet. So going into Johnston to face several state competitors from last season, the odds for Cardinal success did not look promising.
The meet consisted of six schools — Newton, Johnston, Waukee, West Des Moines Valley, Fort Dodge and Pella Christian. Newton kicked off their action against Pella Christian. The Cardinals sent Katelyn Camp and Katelin Klyn to represent the team in singles and reached farther down their typical ladder in doubles, sending the team of Jennifer Venting and Holly Vander Pol to go along with the team of Caitlin Combs and Krystal Mapes.
The Cardinals caught a break with Pella Christian putting the vaunted Paige Engbers in the doubles flight, allowing the Cardinals to sweep the singles matches.The doubles matches were split between the schools, but the Cardinals were able to secure the team victory, 5-1.
“Against PC, despite losing several games that we shouldn’t have, we were able to solidly close out each of the matches except No. 1 doubles,” coach Erick Zehr said. “They put their best player in the doubles flight, and we put our top two players in the singles flights, so our doubles players were slightly overmatched. However, beating them convincingly was a positive omen for our upcoming matchup later this month.”
The Cardinals then advanced in the round robin to face Waukee. Waukee’s Kayla Kuethe was one of 16 girls in the state to qualify for state last season, and she is a two-time state competitor overall. She matched up against Camp. Camp got up 2-0 on Kuethe, and she came within one point of making it 3-0, but Kuethe came from behind for the 6-2 win.
Klyn was able to breeze in her match, winning 6-1. Ventling and Vander Pol had their match go to tiebreak, and they came away with the 8-6 victory over Waukee. The No. 2 doubles team for Newton fell, and the Cardinals ultimately tied Waukee, 3-3.
“Katelin played the best match of her life, and beat a very good Waukee player in the No. 2 singles flight 6-1,” Zehr said. “She finally showed the perfect balance of confidence, patience and aggressiveness that defines successful singles play.”
The Cardinals matched up with Johnston next. Johnston features two of the top players in the state in Payton Klintz and Liera Bender. Klyn fell to Kintz 6-1 in the first singles match.
Camp was all set to take on Bender. Camp took Bender to her absolute limits as a tennis player in the ultimate “back-and-forth” contest. Bender ultimately won in a 7-5 tiebreak, winning four straight points to close Camp out. Both doubles teams fell as well.
“With Johnston up next, several of the girls had goals of simply winning a game or two off their very talented opponents,” Zehr said. “Katelyn didn’t really have a goal, she just wanted to play well and see what would happen. She certainly played well, and was rewarded for her efforts. The result was an incredibly close match, and one in which Katelyn had a very real chance of winning, towards the end.”
Newton then went on to face Valley, but suffered a letdown following their contentious matches with the Johnston crew. Camp fell to Jeni Aldrich 6-0. The same thing happened to Klyn against Lucy Krosakov. Despite both doubles teams holding 4-3 leads at certain points in their respective matches, both fell as well.
Against Fort Dodge, the Cardinals had some major letdowns. Camp was ahead 3-0 but ultimately fell 6-4. Klyn was ahead 4-3 and 40-0 in the eighth game, but she went down 6-4 too. Both doubles teams lost close matches as well, losing 7-5 and 6-7 respectively.
Valley took the team title by a point over Johnston with Waukee taking third. Newton finished fifth overall.
“As a coach, I was ecstatic that we were able to be as competitive as we were with these very talented teams,” Zehr said. “Obviously we would have loved to win a couple of them, but it really showed how far these girls have come. My girls never cease to amaze me with what they are capable of on any given day.
“Katelyn losing to Bender may end up being the highlight of her high school tennis career. She and I have lofty goals for her season,” he said. “We love coming to events like this to see just how we stack up against some of the best teams in the state, and while we would have liked to come away with a few more wins, we were happy to be as competitive as we were in each of the matches.”
The Cardinals’ next meet will be on Tuesday when they host North Polk at Aurora Heights Park.