Girls tennis: Area players leave their mark at state tournament

IOWA CITY — For Ishita Mukadam, a sense of urgency set in quickly on Friday afternoon.

After battling Pella senior Emily Blom for a spot in the Class 1A state tennis tournament semifinals, the Fairfield Maharishi senior suddenly had no margin for error. One more loss would mean the end of her final state singles tournament and the end of her high school tennis career.

"I had to win. I didn't have a choice," Mukadam said. "I didn't go into it thinking I had a second chance. This was it. I knew I had to do well to move on."

Mukadam bounced back from 6-0, 6-0 state quarterfinal loss to Blom winning by the same score against Dike-New Hartford senior Claire McCumber in her third match of the day. The win clinched Mukadam's second straight state medal, earning two more matches on the final day of the girls state tennis tournament.

Mukadam took full advantage of those last two matches, sweeping Aplington-Parkersburg junior Peyton Klooster 6-0 and 6-2 in the state tennis consolation semifinals before closing out her career with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Red Oak senior Merced Ramirez to finish fifth in her final state tennis tournament appearance.

"I reverted back to my cold self and played consistently throughout hitting every single ball in," Mukadam said. "Making sure to focus on the ball and focus on the game really helped me in my matches."

Mukadam faced a stiff test immediately in her return to the Class 1A girls state tennis tournament, going up against a fellow state medalist in Aplington-Parkersburg junior Adria Neymeyer, who placed sixth in last year's state singles tournament. Mukadam and Neymeyer pushed each other throughout most of the opening set before a late break allowed Mukadam to finally secured a 7-5 win.

"I really had to fight for that opening set," Mukadam said. "Adria's form is beautiful. She was very consistent. I just had to fight for it and really bring up my game. That first match really brought my level of play up for the rest of the day."

The state tournament also brought out the best in Davis County teammates Abby Warning and Culee Smith, who came within four points of earning their own state medals in the Class 1A doubles tournament. After suffering a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Pella teammates Alloree Else and Lily VanDusseldorp in the opening round, Warning and Smith bounced back to extend their season with a 6-0, 6-3 win over South Hardin teammates Peyton Benson and Abby Taske.

"I think we were both a lot more relaxed going into that second match," Warning said. "We just decided to have more fun."

Needing one more win to clinch a state medal, Warning and Smith would have to knock off the team seeded third in the state doubles tournament. After securing a 6-1, 6-4 opening-round win, Dike-New Hartford teammates Izzy Norton and Aidalyn Tott were stunned in the state quarterfinals by Brooke Bloom and Isabel Pierce 6-3 and 6-2.

Warning and Smith, however, played without fear jumping out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set. Even as Norton and Tott began to fight back, forcing a tiebreaker in the opening set, Warning and Smith refused to back down ultimately taking an 8-6 win by winning several key rallies to move within one set of clinching a medal-winning upset.

"We came out with a lot of high energy," Smith said. "I told myself it was now or never, so I had to just go for it. I try to block out what the score even is. You don't want to let that take over or it'll mess up everything."

Norton and Tott showcased the skill that made them the third-seeded doubles team in Class 1A, winning the second set 6-1 to force a 10-point super-tiebreaker to decide the match. Once again, Warning and Smith rose to the occasion exchanging point for point with Norton and Tott as the two teams went to a second change-over all tied up at 6-6.

"I told myself I would leave it all out there on the court," Warning said. "I just tried to play to my best ability and not get too nervous or have too much pressure.

"That's definitely the best tennis we've played all season," Smith added. "It was just fun tennis. It's always fun when we play together."

Norton and Tott edged Warning and Smith over the next three points, taking a 9-6 lead in the tiebreaker. After erasing the first of three match points with a stellar return, Warning and Smith could not return a final ace serve that clinched the 7-6 (6), 1-6, 1-0 (7) win.

"We had a lot of great support for Abby and Culee. I think that helped them a lot in that last match," Davis County head girls tennis coach Brian Skaggs said. "I couldn't ask for a better effort. They came here and played three hard matches. They pushed a really good team in their final match. The main message we had as coaches was to remind the girls to play as free as you can and hit your shots. It's easier said as a coach than it is to execute as a player when you're in those pressure situations, but Abby and Culee really had a great performance."

Like Warning and Smith, Fairfield Maharishi teammates Ria Altynska-Ross and Aparajita Karla will be looking to return to the state doubles tournament next season after competing in the tournament this year. Altynska-Ross and Karla completed a successful first season together as a team dropping a competitive 5-7, 6-2, 1-0 (6) loss to Spirit Lake teammates Izzie Wycoff and Emma Straus after suffering a 6-0, 6-0 loss to second-seeded Cedar Rapids Xavier teammates Avery Link and Ruby Smith.

"We worked hard and we put up a good fight," Alynska-Ross said. "Even though we lost, it was a great learning experience."