Hughesville’s Thomas adds singles title to her doubles accomplishments

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette
Rachel Thomas of Hughesville returns a shot in the semifinals Monday at the West Branch Tennis Club.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Rachel Thomas of Hughesville returns a shot in the semifinals Monday at the West Branch Tennis Club.

By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

Rachel Thomas’ backhand shot caught a good chunk of the net cord during the third game of the decisive third set at the District 4 tennis final Monday. The ball popped up in the air ever so slightly and fell to the court.

Her opponent, Loyalsock’s Katie Savidge, could only watch. She was on her 47th game of tennis of the day and was clearly running out of gas. Thomas, the top seed in the tournament from Hughesville, was only getting stronger. And as she got stronger, she kept getting breaks like that net cord hit in the third set of the Class AA final.

After losing the first set of the final, Thomas made an adjustment and it led her to a sparkling comeback and her first District 4 singles title. Thomas, who won the doubles championship each of the past two years with teammate Allison Mattucci, defeated Savidge in a scintillating three-set affair, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, at the West Branch Tennis Club. Thomas reached the final earlier in the day with a win over fifth-seeded Katie Forrestal of Montgomery, 6-1, 6-1. Savidge, a freshman, reached the final with a three-set win over third-seeded Maddy Reeves of Montoursville, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Both Thomas and Savidge qualify for the PIAA tournament, which begins Nov. 3 at the Hershey Racquet Club. Thomas will play the District 9 champion. Savidge plays District 3 champion Catherine Maher of Berks Catholic in the preliminary round. Savidge gives Loyalsock a representative in either the state singles or doubles tournament for the 10th consecutive year.

“I’m so excited,” Thomas said after receiving her gold medal. “It’s a different experience than doubles districts. So I’m definitely excited.”

Thomas spent almost the entirety of the first set running from sideline to sideline as Savidge placed forehands and backhands in the deep corners with a deft precision. The strategy from Savidge negated the power advantage Thomas held and often forced the Spartans’ senior to hit the ball on the run. After Savidge broke Thomas twice in the first set leading to a 6-3 win, Thomas had a conversation with Hughesville coach Craig Weaver where they changed up her gameplan.

Instead of going for hard-hit winners, Thomas went for more top-spin and lob shots which kept Savidge from running her ragged back and forth. There, Thomas could bide her time for openings to hit winners or for Savidge to make mistakes.

The change worked immediately as Thomas broke Savidge to win the first game of the second set and held serve to take a 2-0 lead. After Savidge tied the set at 2-2, Thomas broke twice more in the final five games to win the second set, 6-3.

All the momentum had shifted in the nine games of the second set. Thomas was no longer chasing and instead was dictating the pace of play.

“She likes balls that are lower to hit, and I think that change kind of messed up her game,” said Thomas, who also handed Savidge her lone regular season loss this fall. “When I hit the lob, it limited her from running me and that helped me play better.”

“Rachel really picked up her game there in the middle of the second set,” Loyalsock coach Rick Zimmerman said. “She played phenomenal the rest of the way.”

By the time Thomas and Savidge began the third set of the final, Savidge was already five sets into her day. It had taken her two hours to pull off a three-set, comeback win against Reeves in the afternoon’s semifinal.

Meanwhile, Thomas needed just 44 minutes to win in the semifinals, losing just two games. So when the third set of the final started, Thomas’ shots became more crisp and her legs seemed strong underneath her.

Savidge not only had to rally from losing the first set in the semifinals to Reeves, but also had to rally from being down 2-0 to Reeves in the second set. So by the time she got to the third set of the final, she had put more miles on her legs than Forrest Gump put on his running shoes.

Thomas took advantage, noticing that Savidge began to slow and not having the extra gear to chase down shots. So Thomas would hit shots deep to the base line before dropping slice shots into no-man’s-land just over the net.

“After I won the second set, I had all the momentum,” Thomas said. “It really helped going into that third set.”

“I think she just ran out of gas at the end of the day,” Zimmerman said of Savidge. “We kind of knew this would be the situation today with the matchups. She was prepared for it, but you have to remember, she’s a freshman. I thought she did phenomenal because she did the best she could today.”

Semifinals

No. 1 Rachel Thomas, Hughesville, def. No. 5 Katie Forrestal, Montgomery, 6-1, 6-1; No. 2 Katie Savidge, Loyalsock, def. No. 3 Maddy Reeves, Montoursville, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Finals

No. 1 Rachel Thomas, Hughesville, def. No. 2 Katie Savidge, Loyalsock, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

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