The story was writing itself, and was eerily similar to a tale that was written before. Fairfield and Westview were once again clamoring for their elite status among the Northeast Corner Conference girls tennis annuals.
And the latest chapter between the longtime rivals saw Fairfield dry the ink as the heroes at the NECC Girls Tennis Tournament championships.
After battling rain on the back half of last week, the tourney was pushed to Monday at Westview to finish up the brackets. As buses unloaded in rural Emma, Westview held a slight 23-21 advantage on Fairfield in actual scoring as Addison Mast was already the one singles champ for the Falcons, having defeated Paige Reigsecker of Westview 6-0, 6-1 in the final. However at two singles, Westview's Maddie Stults rolled to the championship to even the score, but in the process Angola's Maya Harris beat Fairfield's Elyse Yoder in the semis. Yoder would rally for third place, but Westview held a 23-21 advantage after two courts played.
That left the final three championship matches to be decided head-to-head between Fairfield and Westview. And all three would culminate with convincing Fairfield victories to seal up a 60-53 championship score over the Warriors.
All three of the courts were first set wins for the Falcons before play was halted on Saturday, and both of the doubles courts saw Fairfield well ahead in the second set. Two doubles had Ella Branneman and Malley Behles finish up Westview with a 6-1, 6-3 tally, mere seconds ahead of Amanda McGuire and Elyse Schwartz, who closed out the one doubles title with a 6-4, 6-1 scoreline.
It was purely academic at that point as Fairfield had enough points to steer clear to the championship woodwork. But Abby Gall still had work to do, and needed a few extra swings to finish up a three singles title with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Bailey Kenner.
"We went into this final round feeling good after a really, really good day Saturday,” said Fairfield head coach Mike Filbrun. “I'm obligated as a coach to say, hey, this thing isn't over! But at the same time, I didn't need to tell anybody here that was the case. The girls always come out and work hard and are naturally motivated on their own. I didn't need to say anything extra.”
The championship becomes the 24th NECC tournament title overall, and in addition to the 8-0 regular season finish, gives Fairfield 20 league titles for a combined 44 NECC trophies for the athletic wing display cases. The latest triumph makes it three straight years in sweeping the conference regular season and tournament titles for the Lady Falcons. All six of the court champions for Fairfield were named All-NECC First Team, and Yoder was named Honorable Mention.
The IHSAA held its state tournament draw Monday night, and the NorthWood Sectional is set. The newly minted NECC champions will take on the Northern Lakes Conference's newly minted champions, NorthWood, in the semi-finals. NorthWood, winners of its first NLC outright title since 1989, handed Fairfield its only regular season loss (3-2) in early April. Filbrun wasn't overly worried about a true road rematch with NorthWood, as both teams have reshaped themselves completely since the post-spring break matchup.
“Both teams are completely different,” Filbrun said. “I'm sure they are much better than they were at spring break, and we certainly are. Every position is getting better. What we really have going for us is that we have five really strong spots. We don't have a weak position. There's no court in our lineup where we have an easy point to give up. We like our lineup and feel like we're a tough out at each position.”
Goshen and Bethany Christian are lined up in the other semi-final at NorthWood, both matchups starting Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. The winners will come back Thursday for the championship round, another 4:30 p.m. start.