NCS tennis: Petaluma’s Maddie Thomas makes Empire history

By HOWARD SENZELL
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Petaluma's Maddie Thomas returns the ball during her match Thursday in the North Coast Section Division 1 tournament at Santa Rosa High School. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Petaluma’s Maddie Thomas returns the ball during her match Thursday in the North Coast Section Division 1 tournament at Santa Rosa High School. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Maddie Thomas didn’t make it to the second day of the NCS Division 1 tennis tournament at Santa Rosa High, but the Petaluma junior still made history on Thursday.

It’s believed that when Thomas won her opening match, she became the first Sonoma County League player to make it to the second round.

The NCS has been staging the tournament since 1977 and Rick Passero, longtime Analy coach, said he couldn’t recall another SCL player getting out of the first round.

The tourney annually brings together the top high school players in Northern California.

Thomas, the two-time SCL singles champ, defeated Mikayla Kutsuris of Liberty in the opening round 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Things were different in the afternoon’s second round as Thomas was beaten by No. 4 seed Isabella Von Eppe of Acalanes 6-1, 6-0.

Thomas wasn’t the only Empire player to advance past the first round.

Santa Rosa High’s doubles team of Haley Lyons and Laurel Ockenden started the day by defeating Madison Daniel and Rose Peterson of Clayton Valley Charter 6-1, 6-1.

Like Thomas, the Panthers duo lost in the quarterfinals. Redwood’s Keiko Kamei and Lise Swain took them out 6-0, 6-0.

Losing in the opening round were Maria Carrillo’s Fu Long and Analy’s doubles team of Hillary Brennan and Kate Stewart.

Brennan and Stewart were beaten by San Ramon Valley’s Catherine McSweeney and Seddon Macholz 6-0, 6-4.

Long lost to Heritage’s Courtney Samuda 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.

The Empire’s only representatives in Division 2 play at Cardinal Newman were Kelseyville’s Mary McCallister and Claire Vargas. The doubles team lost to Lupe Jacobson and Julia Pollack of Lick Wilmerding 7-5, 6-3.

Wind was a factor all day with gusts getting up to 25 miles per hour.

While Thomas’ quarterfinal match lasted less than an hour, her opening-round match took three hours to complete.

Several times in the morning, Thomas was one game away from elimination. In both the second and third sets, she trailed 5-4 and then won three straight games.

“I was constantly having to make adjustments because of the wind,” Thomas said. “When the wind was in my face, I had to hit the ball low and hard to keep it in play. When the wind was at my back, I had to hit softer or the ball would fly.

“I played from behind nearly the whole match. I just kept plugging away.”

When Thomas broke Kutsuris at 5-5 in the third set, she felt confident for the first time.

In the next game, with the wind at her back, she took a 30-15 lead and then unleashed two of her best serves of the day. Neither was returned and Thomas had her historic victory.

Long, the two-time NBL singles champ, had her chances to advance.

The junior was up 5-3 in the first-set tiebreaker. Then she missed three down the line shots and tossed in a double fault to give Samuda the set.

In the second, she fell behind 5-2 before rallying to close the gap to 5-4. However, her opponent won the next game.

“I dislike playing in the wind,” Long said. “Especially wind like this that changes direction. I didn’t play well.

“I should’ve changed my game plan sooner than I did. When I started to serve and volley midway through the second set, I got back in the match. I wish I had done that earlier.”

The Division 1 semifinal and championship rounds will be played Monday. The Division 2 tournament will wrap up today.

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