SIDNEY — It’s been awhile since the Sidney High School girls tennis team celebrated a Division I district qualifier. How long? The most recent qualifier, sophomore Kara Mays, wasn’t born the last time it happened.
Mays qualified for this week’s district tournament after winning the D-I sectional title Saturday at Troy’s Community Park. Top-seeded Mays knocked off No. 2-seed Cierra Christner of Vandalia Butler 7-6 (8-2), 6-1 in the championship match. Mays beat unseeded Butler junior Priya Petty 6-1, 6-3 in the semifinals.
“She had a great draw. She beat everybody in her bracket during the regular season,” Sidney coach Donovan Gregory said. “We kind of saw it coming. She played well.”
Mays clinched a district tournament appearance last Thursday with three sectional wins. That took a little pressure off heading into Saturday’s semifinal and championship rounds.
“I already qualified and I thought I could win this,” Mays said. “I was definitely hoping for a sectional championship.”
Next up for Mays is the D-I district at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. The sprawling complex hosts the world’s best players with the Western & Southern Open. The talent from Ohio isn’t bad, either, as the Mason and Cincinnati sectionals feature some of the top players in the state.
Mays is ready for the challenge with a strong defensive game that can frustrate opponents.
“She’s really defensive. She just hits everything back,” Gregory said. “She’s patient and knows when to take advantage of the point.
“She has great strokes and can move her opponent wherever she wants. She’s a great player.”
Mays, 15-4, enters the district tournament with 32 careers wins. Senior teammate Hailey New holds the program record with 36 career victories. Both New and sophomore Allison Fultz had byes in the first round and won their second round matches before falling in sectional play.
Winning the sectional tournament is a boost for May, who plays No. 4-seed Brooklyn Bowen from Princeton on Thursday.
“I think it makes me more confident going in because I know I won’t be playing someone extremely hard my first round,” said Mays, adding her goal is to get past the first round and have fun. “I’m not nervous. I’m really excited for it, actually.”
At the sectional tournament last season Mays lost in the third round, one win shy of qualifying for district. She moved up from Sidney’s No. 2 singles player last season to No. 1 this season and faced tougher competition. That, along with a gymnastics and ballet background, helped Mays get to Mason this time.
Mays played tennis when she was younger and after a break resumed playing three years ago. Her time in gymnastics and ballet helped her footwork and agility. As for her game, Mays tends to wear opponents down mentally and physically. During the sectional title match, Christner sprayed the other side of the court with shots that Mays chased down and returned each time.
“I like to frustrate people. That’s how I like to play my game,” Mays said. “In the first set of my second match (against Christner), that was pretty rough. I was thinking I was going to lose but it turned out I won. … I’m not that much of an aggressive player so wearing people out is my strong suit.”
She’ll need that same effort in Mason. The Southwest District is routinely regarded as the toughest district in the state.
“I’m telling her to go have fun. Getting to district is awesome,” Gregory said. “From what I’ve experienced with the boys it’s kind of a different world down there. You get to play against some of the best tennis players in Ohio. I’m going to tell her relax, have fun and play your best game of tennis you can play. That’s my advice to her.”