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JT’s Van Essendelft falls in D-11 tourney

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    Jim Thorpe’s Leanne Van Essendelft returns a shot during her District 11 quarterfinal matchup with Logan Lencheski of Notre Dame. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published October 03. 2018 02:13PM

HELLERTOWN — Jim Thorpe’s Leanne Van Essendelft found herself among District 11’s tennis elite on Tuesday at Saucon Valley High School.

The Olympians’ singles player became just the second girls player in school history to reach the quarterfinal round.

Although Van Essendelft’s advancement in the Class 2A tournament came to an abrupt end at the hands of No. 2 seed Logan Lencheski of Notre Dame, it didn’t diminish her excitement.

“Honestly, I didn’t even realize when I left the court yesterday (Monday) that I had reached the quarterfinals — I was one of the eight remaining 2A players in the entire district,” said Van Essendelft. “When I got a chance to collect myself and I realized what I accomplished, it just blew me away.”

The Olympian standout knew she would have her hands full against Lencheski, who combined strong serves, pinpoint ground strokes and a powerful backhand to roll to the 6-0, 6-0 victory.

“I knew she was a great player,” said Van Essendelft. “But she might have been even better than I expected. She’s definitely the best player I faced this season.”

Despite the loss, Jim Thorpe coach Norb Lienhard said he couldn’t be more proud of Van Essendelft’s performance in the tournament in particular, and during the season in general.

“Leanne has had an amazing season,” Lienhard said. “She was 3-11 last year at No. 1 singles, and this year she turned it around and went 11-4 during the regular season and earned two more wins here at districts.

“She has worked hard, and it has paid off. Playing No. 1 singles, you never get a night off. Facing tough competition in every match and having the kind of record she did is really impressive. Then to follow that up by making it to this round of districts is just icing on the cake.”

Van Essendelft’s breakout season didn’t surprise Lienhard.

“I always knew she had the talent to be successful, it was just a matter of being focused mentally,” said the veteran Jim Thorpe coach. “She was always extremely hard on herself and would let one or two mistakes affect her play the rest of the match.

“This year, she has learned to move on to the next point, and it’s made a world of difference.”

It’s a difference that was reflected in Van Essendelft’s impressive won-loss record and her history-making run at districts.

THE OTHER ONE ... Lienhard said the only other Olympian girl tennis player to reach the quarterfinals was Sara Zabelin in 1996.

UP NEXT ... The Olympians seemed to be locked into the fourth seed for next week’s District 11 Class 2A team tournament. If that holds up, they will host either Allentown Central Catholic or Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round.

STAYING BUSY ... Van Essendelft will also participate in the D-11 doubles tournament in two weeks. She will be partnered with Olympian No. 2 singles player Christy McLean.

MOVING ON ... The Class 3A final will feature top seed Elessa Jacobs of Easton taking on No. 2 seed Tashanna Smith of Freedom. The Class 2A final will also feature the top two seeds. Bethlehem Catholic’s Brenna Magliochett, the top seed, will face Lencheski.

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