EMPORIA, Kan. | With the sun beating down and the wind blowing slightly, Blue Valley senior Ashley Tiefel narrowed her eyes, drew her racket back and unleashed a picture-perfect forehand that landed inbounds.
It’s a shot Tiefel has made several times in her life, thanks to the years she’s devoted to the sport of tennis. But this was different, simply because it came in a match — in a specific moment — she had been waiting on for four years.
Yep, the last shot of Tiefel’s high school tennis career will also double as her most memorable one, because it clinched her first state singles title on Saturday. Her 6-2, 6-1 victory over senior teammate Audrey Coventry in the Kansas 5A state finals put the finishing touches on a state tournament at Emporia High School in which Tiefel was, quite simply, dominant.
“Ashley played the best I’ve ever seen her play,” said Blue Valley coach Nelson Elliott, who has coached her during her entire high school career. “But after seeing her play the last couple of weeks, nobody was going to beat her – and I knew that.”
After finishing third in 6A last year and fourth in 6A in 2008 — losing to the eventual state champion in the semifinals each time — Tiefel, who finishes the season with a 26-1 record, entered this tournament as the prohibitive favorite. She didn’t disappoint, either, surrendering only three games in four matches.
“I was supposed to lose those (past) semifinal matches, but here, I definitely knew I was supposed to win,” Tiefel said. “So it was exciting to get the job done.”
Tiefel isn’t the only Tiger to take care of business on Saturday. Thanks to Coventry’s second-place finish and gutsy efforts by Blue Valley’s doubles teams, the Tigers finished with a team score of 43, which edged Kapaun Mount Carmel by two points to secure Blue Valley’s first girls team state title in school history.
“We just had to have our doubles stay in the bracket and not get eliminated,” Elliott said.
That’s exactly what they did, as the Tigers’ top team of junior Payton Meyer and sophomore Jessie Alexander (which finished second at their regional) took 10th, while their No. 2 team of freshman Jenny Moon and Shivani Patel (which took fifth at their regional) finished 11th.
Elliott said their finishes gave the Tigers an additional nine points, which was obviously crucial, considering the close margin by which they won.
“Both doubles teams played very, very well, an improvement over (Friday), and each won two matches today that we needed,” Elliott said.
Yes, this one was a complete team effort for Blue Valley, and Coventry — a senior who just joined the high school tennis team this year — also did her part with a thrilling 7-5, 6-1 semifinal win over Kapaun Mount Carmel’s Abby Stevens in which she overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first set.
Coventry, however, couldn’t duplicate the magic in the finals against Tiefel.
“We’ve played each other tons of times, so both know each other’s games,” said Coventry, who finishes with a 29-4 record. “She just did a good job of exploiting my weaknessesshe’s really good at retrieving balls and making sure I can’t hit them where I want to. That made the difference.”
And by the time it was all over, a tearful Tiefel couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.
“I worked so hardand so did Audrey. Senior year, state championship, you’re going to remember this forever,” Tiefel said.