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JT’s Van Essendelft into D11 quarters

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    Pleasant Valley’s Alyssa Wagner hits a backhand during the District 11 Class 3A tennis tournament at Lehigh University. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a video and photo gallery. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

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Published October 02. 2018 12:53PM

BETHLEHEM – Leanne Van Essendelft watched and waited.

Stirring around the Ulrich Tennis Courts at Lehigh University, the Jim Thorpe senior knew she would have to pass the time until her first round match in the District 11 Class 2A singles tournament.

Sitting in the bottom half of the bracket, Van Essendelft scouted her potential second round opponents, hung around her teammates and talked to her coaches.

Van Essendelft’s patience paid dividends on Monday.

After first round opponent and No. 7 seed Miranda Gibson of Moravian Academy was forced to withdraw, Van Essendelft breezed into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Palisades’ Leah Spies.

Van Essendelft got an opportunity. And she seized it.

“I can’t even explain in words how ecstatic I am about it,” she said. “I was really lucky the Moravian girl (Gibson) didn’t’ show up; I would have loved to play her, too.

“But I’m really glad I got to play that girl (Spies). She was actually a really amazing player, and I definitely feel like I played my best against her. But I’m really, really happy about it.”

The Olympians’ No. 1 singles player controlled her match against Spies from the outset, using an overpowering serve to dictate the pace.

“She took advantage of her opportunity, that’s what it is,” said Jim Thorpe head coach Norb Lienhard. “She got a forfeit that first round, and she came out here and she played great. She had an easy match, which she hasn’t had too many easy matches this year, so I’m really happy with how she played.”

Van Essendelft utilized her downtime to study Spies, who defeated Saucon Valley’s Megan Gatchel 2-6, 6-2, 10-7 in the first round.

“I had been watching the Saucon Valley and Palisades match before that, so I had seen them playing together, and saw that she was consistent, and she hits a lot of slice,” Van Essendelft said of Spies. “So I went in there pretty confident knowing what to expect, and knowing how I was going to have to hit the ball to oppose her.”

Van Essendelft’s quarterfinal opponent will be No. 2 seed Logan Lencheski of Notre Dame Green Pond.

But Lienhard was happy to take a moment to enjoy another piece of history in what has been a remarkable season for his program.

“Right now, it doesn’t matter who she plays,” he said with a smile. “She’s only the second girl in my coaching history that’s made it to the third round. I had one girl make it in the 90’s … but she’s only the second one to make it into the third round in 23 years, so I’m so happy for her.

“It doesn’t matter who she plays, it’s just about going in and playing the best you can and seeing what happens. Maybe something will happen tomorrow, too. You never know.”

Lencheski defeated Tamaqua’s Brooke Williams 6-0, 6-0 in the second round to advance to the quarterfinals.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” said Williams. “I kind of knew my fate playing the second seed. But I loved it. I loved being able to play someone that good. It was crazy.”

Williams advanced to the second round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Notre Dame East Stroudsburg’s Heath Bartlett in the first round.

“It felt good, because the last two years I left after the first match, and I didn’t like that,” said Williams. “I definitely improved a lot in the last year, and I think just mentally, because you know it’s your last season. You’re a senior, you want to give it your all.”

Williams also got to share the court one more time with teammate Lexi Breiner, who made it into the tournament as an alternate for Moravian’s Deidre Hoffman.

“I was nervous when I got here, I was kind of all over the place,” said Breiner. “But then in the second set I was back in the game.”

Williams relished the opportunity to play with Breiner, who fell 6-0, 6-3 to Notre Dame East Stroudsburg’s Anna Marino in the first round, one more time.

“It was amazing, because we played all four years together, right next to each other on the court,” she said. “It’s bittersweet. It’s kind of our last singles match in high school.”

Jim Thorpe’s Kaitlyn O’Neil and Christy McLean also fell in the first round. O’Neil lost 6-4, 7-5 to Clair Olmstead of Palisades, while McLean suffered a 7-5, 6-3 loss to Wilson’s Mollie Veres.

But Lienhard couldn’t hide his pride in what the Olympians have accomplished, finishing the regular season with 13 wins, the most in school history.

“The team has been great this year,” said Lienhard. “They’ve really been working hard. They really deserve everything they got this year, and they’re just breaking record after record. I’m happy.”

In the Class 3A tournament, Pleasant Valley’s Alyssa Wagner suffered a 6-0, 6-2 first round loss to Parkland’s Murong Wang, the No. 5 seed.

“I think I struggled in the first set. I tried to get back in the second set, but she just kept putting them away,” said Wagner.

“I think she was a little nervous in the beginning, in the first set,” added Bears head coach Mark Allison. “But then she got her confidence back, took some games off of her, and some other games were pretty close, that the Parkland girl pulled out. She was definitely more loose, more confident in the second set. She certainly has improved a lot as the season progressed.”

The junior has continued to improve as Pleasant Valley’s No. 1 singles player, her first season in that position.

“It’s the first time she’s played singles this year, and she was able to get experience in the district singles tournament as a junior,” said Allison. “It’s good experience and something to build on for next year.”

LOOKING AHEAD … The quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for today at Saucon Valley High School. The quarters are set to begin at 1:30 p.m with the semis to follow. The finals will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. at Lehigh.

SURPRISE … Two seeded players were bounced on the first day in the Class 3A bracket. No. 6 seed Michelle Li of Southern Lehigh lost 6-3, 6-3 to Paras Briegel of Stroudsburg in the first round. Emmaus’ Shannon Stewart, the seventh seed, fell 7-5, 6-0 to Parkland’s Joanna Wu in the second round.

ANOTHER SURPRISE ... In the Class 2A tournament, No. 8 seed Lily Wright of Blue Mountain lost 6-2, 6-3 to Kiki Wang of Allentown Central Catholic in the second round. Wang made it to the second round after outlasting Emma Anmolsingh of Notre Dame Green Pond 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 in her opening match.

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