OBERLIN — The way Cloverleaf freshman tennis player Emily Dunbar sees it, she will face two familiar opponents when the Oberlin College Division I District begins today at 9 a.m.
The most apparent is first-round foe and fellow freshman Brittany Knoch of Massillon Perry.
“We played a couple times when we were younger and she beat me every time,” the 14-year-old Dunbar said.
The other opponent will be consistency, which the top-seeded Dunbar felt she lacked Saturday in losing 6-4, 6-3 to Walsh Jesuit’s second-seeded Molly Sandberg in the Medina Sectional final.
“I wasn’t too consistent and Molly is a great player and very consistent,” Dunbar said. “I just lacked consistency. It happens.”
It can’t happen in the first round at Oberlin or Dunbar’s season will be over. The top six finishers in singles and doubles will advance to the state tournament, but an opening-round loss brings elimination.
A win in the first round means Dunbar — and Medina singles player Emma Deimling and the Wadsworth doubles team of Katie Doyle and Maria Pace — would need one victory in the next two matches to lock up a state berth.
“I try not to think about that,” Dunbar said. “When you think about it too much, you get more nervous.”
In her first 23 matches, all victories, Dunbar (24-1) posted 21 wins without losing a game, but the competition gets extremely tough at the district level.
Knoch, who stopped playing for several years after beating Dunbar when they were playing 12-and-under or younger United States Tennis Association matches, finished third at the Canton Sectional. Dunbar has the better seed and has been playing year-round since she was 6, but the match figures to be close.
“I’ve just got to play my game, get a lot of balls in and move her around,” Dunbar said. “I just have to be consistent.”
If Dunbar wins in the first-round, she’ll likely play Kenston junior Tasha Birze, the Solon Sectional champ, in the second round. A win there would likely bring a semifinal meeting with Canton Sectional champ Tessa Hill of Jackson or Oberlin Sectional runner-up Emily Witt of Magnificat.
Witt won a match at the state tournament last year before falling to eventual champion Lauren Golick of Westlake, while Hill dropped a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 heartbreaker to Hilliard Bradley’s Ashley Thai in the first round in Columbus.
“I’d like to do my best,” said Dunbar, Cloverleaf’s first district qualifier since exchange student Verena Steigerwald in 2001. “I’d like to be better than just sixth, but you never know.”
Medina’s Deimling, who retired due to a back injury after falling behind Dunbar 3-0 in their semifinal match at the Medina Sectional, also defaulted her third-place match and finished fourth. The freshman will play Jackson’s Hill in the first round at districts.
The Bees met Jackson in a dual match early this season, but Deimling was out of town and didn’t play Hill at first singles.
“She’s a very strong player,” Bees coach Pete Hoffmann said of Hill. “It should be a really good test for Emma to see where she’s at.”
Doyle and Pace are Wadsworth’s first district qualifiers since singles players Laura Sandridge and Jill Peterson in 1976. In a bit of irony, Peterson’s married name is Young and her daughter, Kelly, was Doyle’s doubles partner two years ago.
Doyle and Pace were unseeded at the Medina Sectional, but won four matches before losing twice to finish fourth. The seniors will play Solon Sectional champions Tinisee Kandakai and Monika Bandi of Solon in the first round.
“They’re concentrating on improving their own weaknesses,” Grizzlies coach Kristy Nichol said. “I feel like Katie and Maria have gotten better with each match, and they didn’t start playing together until midway through the season.
“They’re just excited about what they’ve accomplished so far. They’re looking forward to the experience at districts.”
The tournament will conclude Saturday at 9 a.m. with semifinal, final, third- and fifth-place matches.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.