Prep tennis: Bulldogs begin to lock in for postseason

May 1—PELLA — How would the fifth-place doubles match at the Pella Invitational played out?

Would Nellie Morgan and Jordan Lee have rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the opening set against Pella teammates Bryn Higginbotham and Claire Smock? Could the Ottumwa teammates have finished off a winning day at the Pella Invitational on a high note?

Those questions will have to go unanswered. Morgan and Lee shared fifth place in the doubles tournament at Pella on Saturday as thunderstorms moved into the area just four games into one of the final matches of the day. The teams not only shared fifth place, but split the team points in the competition as Ottumwa finished the day in seventh place overall scoring 27.5 total points with four wins in seven matches secured during doubles play between the two teams put on the court by the Bulldogs.

"We've been looking for the proper partnerships for doubles. I think we've got two solid teams going forward," Ottumwa head girls tennis coach Leanna White said. "That's what tournaments like these are all about. It's about seeing if this is the line-up we should be putting up at regionals or do we need to try something different. I think we've answered that question."

While Lee and Morgan went the furthest in the doubles tournament, Ava Barnes and Elli Bishop also showcased toughness and grit on the opposite side of the bracket. After falling 4-1 and 4-0 in the opening round to eventual tournament champions Grace Frey and Juju Mauro, Bishop and Barnes found themselves in a tight battle with Davis County teammates Alistyn Lawson and Alyssa Rudd.

Playing shorter sets in order to get as much of the tournament in as possible before Saturday afternoon's forecasted storms arrived, Bishop and Barnes battled Lawson and Rudd into tiebreakers in each of the first two sets. After losing a 6-4 opening tiebreaker, Bishop and Barnes won 5-2 in the second-set tiebreaker sending the teams into a seven-point third-set tiebreaker.

The Ottumwa teammates kept right on rolling, winning the tiebreaker 7-2 to advance in the consolation side of the doubles tournament. Bishop and Barnes won 13 of the final 17 points to respond from the opening-set loss.

"We talked with Coach White between the first and second sets. We just started making goals to reach during the set, but the main thing was that we kept reminding ourselves that we had to keep going," Bishop said. "We tried to get to two points first, then five points. Eventually, we put ourselves in position to win the rest.

"It was kind of stressful, but I feel like with Elli, we always encourage each other and help each other out," Barnes said. "We just keep playing and keep pushing forward no matter how things are going for us."

Barnes and Bishop would fall in the second round of the consolation bracket 4-0 and 4-1 to Oskaloosa teammates Lexi Prather and Hannah Nelson, setting up a consolation semifinal showdown with Ottumwa's other doubles team. Lee and Morgan bounced back from a 4-0, 4-1 loss in the quarterfinals to Pella teammates Alloree Else and Lily VanDusseldorp to stay alive in the tournament with a consolation-round 4-0, 4-2 win over Pella Christian teammates Ava Breems and Leah Mulder before continuing to roll against Prather and Nelson winning a 4-0 opening set in the consolation semifinals.

Oskaloosa's team refused to go away, working back from an early deficit in the second set to force a tiebreaker before winning the last two points to secure a 5-3 win that sent the teams into a third-set super-tiebreaker. Nelson and Prather nearly came all the way back to win the match, erasing three match points to tie Morgan and Lee at 6-6 before the Ottumwa teammates responded winning the final two points with a Morgan return forcing a final Oskaloosa error that clinched the 4-0, 3-4 (3), 1-0 (6) Bulldog victory.

"I just needed to get out of my head late in that match. I wasn't making the shots I normally make, but I had to push through that in order to get the win in that final tiebreaker," Morgan said. "I think Jordan and I improved throughout the day and it showed in every match."

Throughout their 3-1 day at Pella, Morgan and Lee showed the aggressive abilities needed to put away points against top competition. Morgan laced several shots at the net on the attack while Lee laced several serves for aces in the tournament.

"Towards the end of last season, I started to really figure out my rhythm with my serving," Lee said. "This year, getting back into shape for the season, I think my serving has gotten even better."

Ottumwa began a busy week, weather permitting, with an 11-0 Iowa Alliance Conference south division dual sweep against Des Moines Hoover on Tuesday at Jon Kneen Courts. Bulldog seniors Bishop, Julia Cordon Diaz de Entresotos, Samantha Khamphilanouvong and Allie Potter all took part in securing five of the 11 wins including a 7-5, 7-6 (5) win by Khamphilanouvong and Potter in their varsity debut as the No. 5 doubles team.

"It was a great chance to get several people that normally don't play in our varsity line-up a chance to play," White said. "We had young players step up in doubles. It was really good to see everyone step up to the plate and to see our seniors all get at least one final match here at home."

Ottumwa's busy week included a final Iowa Alliance south road trip to Des Moines Roosevelt on Wednesday and a final regular-season dual at Burlington-Notre Dame on Thursday. The Bulldogs will compete in Class 2A regional singles and doubles tournament action on Monday.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.