OBERLIN — Emily Dunbar made history Thursday.
The Cloverleaf freshman singles player won two matches at the Oberlin College Division I District to earn a spot in the semifinals Saturday morning. In doing so, she became the first female player in school history to qualify for the state tournament.
Medina freshman singles player Emma Deimling and the Wadsworth senior doubles team of Katie Doyle and Maria Pace fell in the first round and were eliminated.
Dunbar (26-1), who finished second at the Medina Sectional, beat Massillon Perry freshman Brittany Knoch 6-2, 6-1 in the win-or-go-home first round. Knoch, the third-place finisher at the Canton Sectional, had defeated Dunbar in United States Tennis Association matches when they were younger.
Dunbar then downed Solon Sectional champion Tasha Birze of Kenston 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals to lock up a state berth. She will play Canton Sectional winner and returning state qualifier Tessa Hill of Jackson in the semifinals Saturday at 9 a.m.
“I’ll just try to get a lot of balls in, move her around, wait for a short ball and attack,” the soft-spoken and unassuming Dunbar said of her meeting with Hill, whom she has never played.
The other singles semifinal will pit Walsh Jesuit’s Molly Sandberg, the Medina Sectional champ who handed Dunbar her only loss of the season, against Oberlin Sectional winner Lauren O’Malley of Magnificat.
The top six placers in singles and doubles advance to the state tournament, so those who lost in the quarterfinals can still qualify if they win their first match Saturday.
The 14-year-old Dunbar played beautifully Thursday, continually displaying consistent, patient and intelligent after struggling in some of those areas in her 6-4, 6-3 sectional final loss to Sandberg.
In her opening match against Knoch, Dunbar broke to go up 3-1 and lost just one more game in the first set. She then won a marathon first game in the second set and closed out the match by taking four straight games.
“I was a little nervous, but it wasn’t too bad,” she said. “I just tried to do my best. If I lost, I lost.”
Dunbar was just as good against Birze, breaking her at love to win the first set 6-3, then again winning a marathon first game — she faced two break points — to start the second set.
The 5-foot-4, 110-pound Dunbar quickly got up love-40 in the second game, only to have Birze battle back to deuce. Dunbar then won two straight points to break her opponent, who never recovered.
“I knew I needed to be consistent,” Dunbar said. “She went for a lot, so I had to keep moving her around and keep her off balance so she couldn’t set up. That was basically my plan.
“I knew I needed to get that first game in the second set. That was such a long game, but if you get them down, they kind of lose their faith.”
Medina’s Deimling, who finished fourth at the Medina Sectional, was down 6-0, 2-1 when she retired against Hill due to a sore back. It was the same injury that forced her to retire when down 3-0 in the first set to Dunbar in the sectional semifinals and default her third-place match.
Hill then defeated Magnificat’s Emily Witt, who was second at the Oberlin Sectional and last year won a match at the state tournament, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (4) in the quarterfinals.
Wadsworth’s Doyle and Pace, the fourth-place doubles team at the Medina Sectional, fell 6-0, 6-0 to Solon Sectional champions Tinisee Kandakai and Monika Bandi of Solon.
To illustrate the talent at the district level, Kandakai and Bandi then lost 6-4, 6-1 to Canfield’s Hannah Cianciola and Ashley Kallel, who finished third at the Canton Sectional.
The match of the day was a first-round meeting between Mayfield’s Jamie Vizelman, who finished second at the Solon Sectional, and Hudson’s Katie Mdzinarishvili, who was third at the Medina Sectional. Vizelman won the 3½-hour marathon 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3, then got the mandatory 45-minute break before losing 7-6 (5), 6-2 to O’Malley in the quarters.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNolandd.