by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A Rogers seventh-grader will have a conference championship riding on her slim shoulders Wednesday.
Royal sprite Samantha Fitzgerald and her Buffalo opponent, junior Jennie Allen, claimed one hard-earned set apiece in a marathon No. 4 singles match Tuesday before darkness intervened in the Mississippi 8 tennis finale between two 5-0 teams.
Of the six matches completed, each team won three.
So, after getting what they hope will be a good a night’s sleep, and then trying to concentrate on school during the day, Fitzgerald and Allen will resume their battle at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Rogers Middle School courts, with all their respective teammates cheering them on.
“It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking,” stated Rogers coach Debbie Conley after a warm, cheery huddle with her team. “You really want them to do well, and now they are so close …. The girls were pretty nervous (coming in) but they have won a lot lately, and don’t like to lose.”
Buffalo has snagged all but one of the Mississippi 8 titles since the league began. Rogers has never finished better than 2-5 in conference but things came together this year. They are 13-7 overall, winning 12 of their last 13 after starting 1-6 and sorting out their lineup.
In the matches completed, Rogers got victories from Sarah Kornovich at No. 3 singles, Rachel Dodd/Gina Peppin at No. 1 doubles, and Sydney Livingston/Kionna Koeppe at No. 3 doubles.
Rogers leader Danielle Anderson was beaten at No. 1 singles by Mackinzie Rite, the first conference setback for Anderson. Buffalo also won No 2 singles with Kaylyn Skinner, and No. 2 doubles with Whitney Nyholm/Ellen Koppi.
Most of the matches were closely-contested — especially the one that’s not done yet. With both girls hitting carefully and accurately but not powerfully, the points routinely lasted 15 to 25 volleys. They dueled for two hours and 45 minutes, with Fitzpatrick winning 7-6 (8-6), then losing 7-5 after battling back from a 5-3 deficit to 5-5.
Win or not today, it’s been a giant leap for the Rogers tennis program in its seventh year. They were 7-14 last year, but with eight starters returning they resolved to give 2011 their best shot.
“Coach Conley had us do three-hour practices all summer, and we didn’t just hit, we also lifted weights,” said Anderson. “I think that really helped. You can see the difference now.”
Rogers 3, Buffalo 3
(To be completed Wednesday, 3 p.m., at Rogers)
(1) Mackinzie Rite, Buf, def Danielle Anderson 6-2, 6-3
(2) Kaylyn Skinner, Buf, def Bailey Kolles 7-5, 6-3
(3) Sarah Kornovich, ER, def Claire Parsons 6-1, 6-1
(4) Samantha Fitzgerald, Rog, and Jennie Allen, Buf, tied 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, suspended to Wednesday
(1) Rachel Dodd-Gina Peppin, Rog, def Ellie Botzek-Megan Bye 6-0, 6-0
(2) Whitney Nyholm-Ellen Koppi, Buf, def Katie Meyer-Julia Sporer 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
(3) Sydney Livingston-Kionna Koeppe, Rog, def Nattie Lubben-Claudia Botzekk 7-6 (7-3), 6-4