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Potters serve up state bid

EAST LIVERPOOL — Sydney Cooper and Gianna Davie have meant a lot to East Liverpool’s tennis team this season. From leadership to on-court play, the duo has made a name for themselves.

On Friday, Cooper and Davie will try to conquer the jitters that come with playing in the Div. II state tennis tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, in Mason.

Last year, the two Potters lost in the first round of the Div. II state tournament, 6-0, 6-1, to Destiny Winans and Abigail Franks of Canton South.

“The state tournament is definitely much different than what we’re used to. There’s a judge. They call foot faults and they call if the ball is in or out. It was something we weren’t used to and it was a shock,” Cooper said. “This year we know what to expect. Our goal is to go out there and not freeze like we did last year.”

Cooper and Davie have been friends since the 5th grade and are on the same wavelength, which is important during a doubles match.

“I think Syd and I have been each others mentor over the years. We just mentally get each other,” Davie said.

She added that doubles tennis requires a different approach because you have to share the court with a teammate. Davie has played singles tennis for a majority of the season.

“It’s important to avoid the net person because in doubles tennis there’s less court to cover. You have to place it more in doubles,” Davie explained.

“Doubles is a lot more fast paced than singles matches,” Cooper said.

Davie and Cooper were runner-ups in the Div. II district tournament last week.

The seniors lost to Logan Elm’s Keller Clouse and Erin Gaskin, 6-2, 6-3, in the doubles final.

The Potters’ duo did top Mollie Creech and Savanah Holtgrewe of Portsmouth Notre Dame in the first round, 6-1, 6-0. They followed that up with a victory against Maria Nolan and Izzy Hamilton of Wheelersburg, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) to reach the state tournament.

East Liverpool head coach Darlene Vantilburg said both Potters have made life easier for her and have really guided the Potters this season.

“Sydney is the motivation on the court. Gianna sees one of them struggling and she gets hands-on, shows them how to hold the racket, and how high the ball needs to go. Gianna is the teacher and Sydney is the motivator,” Vantilburg said.

Before becoming the Potters’ head coach, Vantilburg walked around Thompson Park and would see the duo leading drills.

“I would see them on the court running drills. They didn’t have a coach yet. They were the coaches,” Vantilburg said. “I watched it every day as I waited to be the coach. There’s a lot of times where I can step back and they just run the show.”

With the state tournament in a few days, Vantilburg believes that if Cooper and Davie are hitting on all cylinders they should be fine on the big stage.

“It definitely is a little nerve-wracking to go again, because now the tension is on,” Vantilburg said. “Just like at districts, I told them they were already here and they won. Now states is a lot tougher. But, as long as they play together, make great serves, communicate, I have no doubt.”

Cooper and Davie will play Cincinnati Indian Hill’s Lexi Larsen and Cassie Larsen in the first round but the seniors don’t have much information on their opponents for the state showcase.

They added that there are some things the average tennis fan may not notice when they attend Friday’s match or any match for that matter.

“You can’t see everything that happens on the court. The score sometimes doesn’t show how hard you tried,” Davie said. “Some things look a lot different than they do on the court, including the pace of the ball. It could have spin on it that you can’t see.”

Cooper added that tennis is all about the mental game.

“It’s all about your confidence on and off the court. If you have a bad mindset, it does affect how you play,” Cooper explained.

“Tennis is definitely a strategy sport,” Davie said. “If you don’t have a strategy, you’re not going to win. You really have to think about what you’re doing when you’re playing.”

Cooper has been a key player, not just for East Liverpool tennis, but for the school’s volleyball team, too. She serves as the Potters’ libero and understands the balance required to be a two-sport athlete.

“It’s definitely a busy schedule all the time. There’s also a lot of rest and making sure I’m eating well. My coaches for both the tennis and volleyball team have been very patient this year with me when it comes to missing some practices, matches and games,” Cooper noted.

Davie and Cooper also took time to recognize everyone who helped them throughout the tennis season, including Cooper highlighting the Potters last two head coaches.

“We want to thank coach Darlene and all of the players on our team. They’ve really made an impact this year,” Cooper said. “And we thank our old coach Kim DiLoreto, my dad for helping us out, and all our parents and friends for supporting us.”

Davie and Cooper are embracing the state tournament since it will signal the end of their tennis matches together.

“We want to have fun the last few matches that we have together,” Davie said.

State notes

• Lexi Larsen, then a freshman, teamed up with senior Jenny Zhang in last year’s Div. II state tournament. The team made it to the second round being eliminated.

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