CHARLESTON - Charleston Catholic continued its stranglehold on the Class AA/A tennis titles but for the first time since 2009, the Irish girls didn't make it a clean sweep thanks to an unlikely source.
Wheeling Central's Christine Gompers downed Charleston Catholic's Ellie Grubb 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday at the Schoenbaum Tennis Courts to capture the No. 4 Singles championship.
''It feels good, obviously, and I'm really relieved,'' Gompers said. ''I think I played stronger than usual because I really wanted it.''
PHOTO BY JOSH STROPE
Wheeling Central’s Christine Gompers hits a return in the state championship.
As if halting Charleston Catholic's individual title run wasn't impressive enough, consider where Gompers was at this time last year.
Wheeling Central, which finished runner-up for the Class AA/A girls' title, has long had a strong tennis program and last year was no different, sending everyone on the team to Charleston - except Gompers.
Wheeling Central coach Peggy Dailer invited Gompers down, but the then-junior was nothing more than a cheerleader.
''It was nice to watch everyone else, but I knew I wanted to play,'' Gompers said. ''Not making it last year really made me want it more this year.
''I knew I had to try to be more consistent in my game, rather than just slamming the ball.''
Gompers became much improved and set the state tournament as her goal. It almost came to a halt in the regionals where she built a big lead and had to hang on to win.
The state tournament only takes the regional champion at No. 4 Singles so Gompers' march started long before anyone else's.
''All I really wanted was to just make it down here because the rest of my team was going and I didn't want to be left out again,'' Gompers said.
She kept that momentum going by beating Liberty's Samantha McIntire 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals Friday, setting up the match with Grubb.
While the ''Charleston Catholic aura'' can play mind games with some players, Gompers wasn't fazed and shouldn't have been. She already owned a 9-7 victory against Grubb,
This time it wasn't even close.
Gompers took the first three games of the first set and despite taking a little longer than she wanted to earn the last point of the final game, she pulled it out to win 6-2.
Grubb was the one who at times looked defeated and Gompers kept coming at her. The Maroon Knights senior won the first five games before topping Grubb 6-1 in the second set.
''I knew she was going to be consistent,'' Gompers said. ''I thought it was going to be close but I actually surprised myself. I was placing the ball well.''
Gompers' victory ends an impressive streak for the Irish. The last time a Charleston Catholic player lost in the state tournament was the 2009 No. 1 Singles championship when Wheeling Central's Alex Greco captured the title by beating Elizabeth Hensley.
It also broke a tie with Poca to give Wheeling Central the second-place trophy.
''The last time we won the state championship was 2005 so even though this is second place, it's as good as first place. The only difference in the trophy is that it is silver,'' Dailer said. ''Charleston Catholic is strong from the top to bottom and this is an accomplishment for our whole team.
''Christine played wonderful. She was so composed and never got rattled. I am absolutely ecstatic for her. She truly deserved it. She has improved so much this year and that is why she got here and why she won. She really put her all into tennis this year.''
Charleston Catholic won the remaining girls' title, including at No. 2 Singles where Claire Hamilton defeated Wheeling Central's Joanna Capito 6-0, 6-2, in a rematch of last year's final.
Despite the lopsided score, Capito gave Hamilton everything she could handle, making her earn every point. Hamilton, who many felt was good enough to win at No. 1 Singles, just had too much firepower and overmatched the Maroon Knights sophomore.
''I thought I did pretty good,'' Capito said. ''I tried my hardest but she is really good. I never quit trying. I didn't want to hit directly toward her, not hit it soft, and give her chances to slam it down. I thought I did that but she is really good.''
After two impressive showings at the state tournament, Capito will try to get back on the tennis court as soon as possible as things appear to get tougher for her next year.
Wheeling Central will graduate a good number of players and Capito figures to move up to No. 1 Singles.
''I need to work on my placement and try not to set them up as much,'' Capito said. ''I plan on playing some in the summer. I always try my best so that is all I can really do."
Charleston Catholic easily won the boys' title, winning six of the seven individual titles, only losing at No. 1 Singles where an injury to top player Mark Cassis in the third set derailed the sweep.
The Huntington boys' and girls' teams took home the Class AAA trophies.