GC/G-R stands tall only to fall

Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck girls tennis team knocked out by Norwalk

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s No. 3 singles player, junior Emerson Kracht, makes a running forehand return during her match against Norwalk’s Kennedi Wright on Saturday at the Grinnell College Fieldhouse in Grinnell. Wright won the match in straight sets, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, and the Warriors swept GC/G-R 5-0 in the regional dual.

GRINNELL — Fans oohed and aahed when Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck junior Alivia Brandhorst got her return of serve to glance off the net and fall safely on the other side, only to see Norwalks’s Ellie Riter spoil the shot with an even better one of her own.

On a day when the Spartans seemingly couldn’t catch a break, it was fitting that the one time they did, Norwalk outdid them.

The GC/G-R girls tennis squad saw its dual season end abruptly on Saturday morning, suffering a 5-0 loss to Norwalk in a best-of-nine format in the Class 1A Region 3 quarterfinals inside the Grinnell College Fieldhouse.

The Warriors (8-5) won all 11 sets that were completed, and Riter led Brandhorst 3-0 in the second set of the No. 6 singles contest that never reached its end. Norwalk, the third-largest 1A team in Iowa girls tennis, eliminated Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck with veritable ease.

“We knew that they’re a big school and that they’re pretty good, so we just knew we had to come in and play our game and see how things worked out,” said GC/G-R senior Reegan Zinkula. “We weren’t going in expeceting to lose, but we knew we needed to come in and try our best and play our game. When you look at their schedule and you see all these big schools and then you look at ours and it’s just small schools, it’s a big difference. That played a huge factor coming in, but you can’t assume anything.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck junior Leslie Homeister makes a lunging backhand return during her No. 1 singles match against Jordan Bandy of Norwalk on Saturday in Grinnell. Bandy won the match 6-3, 6-3, and the Warriors eliminated GC/G-R by a 5-0 score.

Neither squad took anything for granted, as evidenced by Norwalk’s five straight-set sweeps and the Spartans’ willingness to stand their ground. GC/G-R junior Emerson Kracht made the most resistance from her No. 3 singles position, pushing Kennedi Wright to the limit in an eventual 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 defeat.

Kracht actually led 4-1 in the first set of their match before Wright rallied to win five of the next six games. Kracht held serve to push the opening set to 6-all, but Weber won the first-to-seven tiebreaker handily.

In the second set, Kracht again took the first game and later clinged to a 3-2 lead before Wright rattled off the next four games to finish off the victory.

“I think that they’re in a class above us as far as ability,” GC/G-R head coach Joel Johnson said of Norwalk. “I think we’re closing the gap considerably. These girls all compete in several sports so it’s tough for me to have them get together and have them work on tennis three hours a day all summer long — it’s just not going to happen. They enjoy the sport, they have fun, but there’s a lot of good athletes on the team and they play hard.”

Leslie Homeister, also a junior, suffered just her second loss at No. 1 singles this spring when Norwalk’s Jordan Bandy bounced her by matching 6-3, 6-3 set scores. Homeister had her moments of stellar play but couldn’t match the consistency of Bandy (7-6).

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - GC/G-R sophomore Whitney Laube lobs a return during her No. 5 singles match against Jenna Agey of Norwalk on Saturday at the Grinnell College Fieldhouse. Agey won the match 6-2, 6-2, to finish off Norwalk’s Class 1A regional quarterfinal victory.

Zinkula was the only other Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck player aside from Brandhorst to take three games in a set, falling 6-1, 6-3 to Alli Kreider at No. 2 singles. Erika Johnson fell 6-1, 6-1 to Rachel Lesley at No. 4, and Whitney Laube lost 6-2, 6-2 to Jenna Agey at No. 5 in the clinching victory for the Warriors.

“I thought Emerson Kracht played well and Leslie Homeister played well,” said Johnson. “They’re both juniors, they’ll be our senior leaders next year. We got good leadership out of Reegan Zinkula and Erika Johnson and Brianna Brown. … I call Emerson and Leslie our leaders-in-training and I think they’ll do a good job, and honestly if they work some on it during the offseason we might be able to take another step closer to playing and being competitive.”

Brandhorst fell 6-2 in the first set to Riter but didn’t get a complete chance to redeem herself in the second set by the time the dual meet had ended. Norwalk advanced to face Pella Christian, which dispatched host Grinnell 5-1 in the other dual taking place on the floor of the Fieldhouse where the morning’s rainy and cold conditions couldn’t prevent them from playing.

“I don’t know if the stars would have had to align right, but I think if we’d have gotten a break here or there we might have won one or two (matches),” coach Johnson said, “but it would have been a David vs. Goliath if we would have won the match today, and I knew that so I wasn’t going to put pressure on the kids because that’s just the way it’s drawn.

“I would have liked to push it to 5-4 or at least be able to play all the matches,” he added. “Our doubles teams are pretty solid so if we could have gotten there, could we have won a match or two? Who knows.”

Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck lost its two regular-season duals to large 1A schools (Waverly-Shell Rock and Charles City) and couldn’t overcome the largest opponent yet in Norwalk. The GC/G-R shared program stacks up 51st out of 66 schools in 1A.

“They were making better shots, they can place it better, hit it harder, but you never know,” Zinkula shrugged. “We know that we just need to move on now and look at conference on Monday and then individuals on Wednesday, just shake it off and be ready to improve and learn lessons from today and improve on Monday and Wednesday.”

The North Iowa Cedar League meet is Monday at Byrnes Park in Waterloo, and the Spartans go back there on Wednesday for the individual singles and doubles regional tournament. Both meets start at approximately 9 a.m.

“I feel like we played to the best of our ability and as long as we keep doing that, that’s fine,” Erika Johnson said. “We were told to have a lot of fun and we did today, so even though we didn’t win we still had fun.”

Norwalk 5, Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck 0

At Grinnell

Singles

Jordan Bandy (N) def. Leslie Homeister, 6-3, 6-3

Alli Kreider (N) def. Reegan Zinkula, 6-1, 6-3

Kenedi Wright (N) def. Emerson Kracht, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3

Rachel Lesley (N) def. Erica Johnson, 6-1, 6-1

Jenna Agey (N) def. Whitney Laube, 6-2, 6-2