Sentinel-Echo.com

May 10, 2013

Once, twice, three times a champion

South Laurel’s Neha Rao breezes to another 13th Region singles title

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — CORBIN—A dominating performance.

That’s what South Laurel’s Neha Rao turned in during the 13th Region tennis tournament, held at Corbin High School.

In winning her third straight girls’ singles title, Rao dropped just four games in her four matches. This included winning twice on Tuesday, beating Corbin’s Catherine Crawford, the No. 3 seed, 6-0, 6-1, in the semifinals, then rolling over the second seeded Taylor Moyers of Middlesboro in the finals, 6-0, 6-1.

“It feels good,” Rao said of winning her third straight region title. “I think I was on my game today. I’m glad I pulled it out.”

The championship game against Moyers was proof that she was “on her game.” In the straight set win, she recorded 10 aces, 10 forehand winners, held serve six times and broke Moyers’ serve five times. She also scored winners on several drop shots and kept Moyers off her game.

“I made a couple of mistakes,” Rao said.

Those mistakes came mostly in the third game of the second set, where she hit three shots into the next and another long in losing to Moyers. Other than that, it was pretty much business as usual for the South Laurel sophomore, who has not lost a match in high school tennis this season. She is also currently ranked No. 3 in Kentucky in the USTA’s Girls’ 16 Combined standings.

Rao steam rolled through the first set, serving two aces in the opening game. When she wasn’t hitting winners, she was forcing Moyers to make errors, as several of her shots went wide, long or into the net.

Trailing 5-0, Moyers double faulted on her first two serves in game six to put her in a love-30 hole. Another shot sailed wide, then Rao wrapped up the first set with a nice drop shot that Moyers wasn’t able to get to.

Moyers, looking more and more dejected, continued to make errors, and Rao was there to pounce on them. The first two games of the second set were decided when Moyers hit her return long. Moyers finally caught a break in the third game as Rao hit three shots into the net and Moyers broke her serve and cut the lead to 2-1.

Just when it looked like Moyers might have some momentum, Rao quickly snatched it back, winning the next four games with a variety of shots to win the set, 6-1, and the match, 6-0, 6-1.

Now she has to prepare for another trip to the state tournament, which gets underway next Friday in Lexington.

“I’m hoping to do better than I did last year,” Rao said. She advanced to the third round last year before falling to the No. 2 seeded girl, Elle Gerlach of Christian Academy of Louisville. “I think I will make a better run than last year.”

“We’re hoping to get her a seed,” South Laurel coach Carol Johnson said. “Last year she was seeded 9-16.”

In girls’ doubles, North Laurel’s Pooja Kanthawar and Caroline Moore, the No. 2 seeded team, won their semifinal match, beating the No. 3 seed from Corbin, Emma Kate Carlofits/Julie Crawford, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 10-8.

“So happy for these girls to advance to the doubles final,” North Laurel coach Bobby Smith said. “On paper, this (the semifinal match) was a toss-up and it proved to be just that. Could have gone either way. We didn’t play as well as we did in the quarters, but we delivered when we had to. After losing a tough tiebreaker in the first set, the girls hung in there and just kept battling. Really thrilled for them.”

That win moved them into the finals, where they faced the No. 1 seeded team, Corbin’s Sydney Ledington/Jaclyn Jewell. The North duo lost the opening set, 6-2. Rain then forced the match to be postponed and continued on Wednesday, where Corbin wrapped it up., 6-2, 6-3.

“This was a good match for our girls, and we sure had our chances,” Smith said.  “Sydney and Jaclyn are a strong team and should get seeded at state. But I think we proved we’re a pretty good team ourselves.  We made some adjustments after we lost the first set and got delayed by the rain.  We attacked and were able to put some pressure on them, and we were just two points away from being up 5-1 in the set.  Against that good of a team, you have to take advantage of opportunities presented to you.  And we let a couple get away from us.  But we gave ourselves a chance and that’s what you ultimately hope for—to give yourself a chance to win.  But I’m so pleased with our girls and the year they’ve had.  Qualifying for state is always a big thrill, but we were also very excited to take that next step and play in the final this year.  So proud of the way they represented themselves and competed.”

In boys’ doubles, North’s Arjun Kanthawar/Spencer Bolton, the No. 4 seeded team, fell to Corbin’s William Reedy and Harrison Reedy, the No. 2 team, 6-0, 6-3, in the semifinals.

“We just got off to a slow start and could never recover,” Smith said. “We fought back to 4-3 in the second, but they were able to hold us off.  They’re a tough duo, and Harrison really came up big with his serve today.”

Both North teams, along with Rao, advance to the state tournament. North girls’ finished tied for third in the team standings, while North boys finished in third. Corbin won both team titles.

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