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Published: Thursday, 10/19/2006

Arrows' O'Connell, Eccleston vie for state tennis title

BLADE SPORTS WRITERS

The City League's top girls singles players have doubled up for tournament play and will be competing in the Division I state tennis tournament this weekend.

St. Ursula senior Kelly O'Connell - who won the CL's No. 1 singles championship on Oct. 1 by beating Notre Dame junior Tara Majdalani 7-6, 6-2 - has advanced through sectional and district competition in doubles play along with sophomore teammate Maddy Eccleston.

O'Connell and Eccleston defeated Majdalani and fellow ND junior Meredith Morse 6-4, 6-4, in Saturday's district doubles final at Port Clinton to earn one of four No. 1 seeds in the 16-team state bracket.

Majdalani and Morse, who placed third in last year's state doubles, got the northwest district's other state doubles spot by placing second. Majdalani was 18-2 in singles this season, while Morse was 16-1. They are 11-2 as a doubles team.

State tournament play at Ohio State University's Stickney Tennis Center begins with first-round Division II singles matches tomorrow at 9 a.m., followed by D-I singles and then doubles matches in both divisions. The winners play second-round matches there tomorrow afternoon.

The event continues with singles and doubles semifinals Saturday at 9 a.m. at Hilliard Davidson High School in suburban Columbus. The shift was scheduled because of the Ohio State football game against Indiana at noon Saturday.

During the season, O'Connell was 18-4 in singles play, while Eccleston was 22-2. Since teaming up at the sectional, they are 5-0 as a pair.

The Arrows' duo has an opening-round match tomorrow morning with a No. 4 seed from Columbus DeSales, senior Laina Grote and freshman Kim My Li.

Majdalani and Morse, who reached the state bracket as a No. 2 seed, will face Chillicothe's defending D-I state doubles championship team of senior Madison Wright-Piekarski and junior Natalie Skocik in a first-round match.

The Chillicothe duo defeated Majdalani and Morse 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in last year's D-I state semifinals, but the Eagles' pair reversed that outcome this season by prevailing 7-6 (10-8), 6-3 over Wright-Piekarski and Skocik in the finals of the Pickerington North tournament on Sept. 16.

In the City League tournament, Morse toppled Eccleston 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the No. 2 singles final.

How closely matched are the SUA and NDA teams and players?

The CL's No. 1 and No. 2 singles tournament finals were reversals of earlier head-to-head matches in regular-season league play, when Majdalani (over O'Connell) and Eccleston (over Morse) had been victorious.

In sectional doubles competition at Jermain Park, O'Connell and Eccleston edged Majdalani and Morse 7-5, 6-4 in the finals.

The rival academies have proven quite successful in recent years at the state tournament.

Notre Dame's Neela Vaez won back-to-back D-I state singles titles in 2004 and 2005 before graduating and moving on to a spot on the Purdue University tennis team.

In 2002, St. Ursula's Anna Volberg won the Ohio D-I singles crown, one year after the SUA team of Angie Bhat and Kate Lohner captured the state doubles title. Bhat and Lohner placed third at state as seniors in 2002.

Kelly O'Connell is the sister of James O'Connell, who teamed as a St. Francis de Sales junior with cousin Mike O'Connell, who was a sophomore, to win the D-I state boys doubles championship in 2003. The cousins placed third in state doubles in 2004. James is now playing at Dayton and Mike is on the team at Ohio State.

Also qualifiying for state tournament play were the D-II doubles teams of senior Sarah Boss and junior Mari Monaco of Port Clinton, and senior Bethany Pugh and junior Sadie Feick of Bellevue.

Most City League followers already knew that Bowsher junior Meshawn Graham is one of Ohio's, and the nation's, best high school sprinters.

They may not know she is now one of the CL's best distance runners.

In last Saturday's league cross country meet at Ottawa Park, Graham posted a respectable time of 20:16.16 to place fourth, putting her on the All-City first team.

According to Bowsher coach Mark Coe, Graham is the first All-Ohio girls sprinter (400 meters or less) to also earn first-team league honors in cross country.

Graham won the 200 at the state track meet as a freshman with a time of 24.69, and was third in the state 400 (54.22).

Last June, a leg injury suffered in the CL championship meet prevented her from qualifying for the state meet individually because she missed district competition.

But Graham returned in time to anchor the Rebels' state championship 800 relay squad, which ran a 1:40.84, and their fourth-place 400-meter relay finish.

Lakota was pushed to the limit Tuesday at Eastwood, but the Raiders rallied from an 0-2 deficit in games to top the Eagles and win an outright Suburban Lakes League volleyball championship.

Coach Allan Ahle's Raiders (18-2 overall) shook off their early woes to take a 17-25, 23-25, 25-19, 25-20, 19-17 victory and finish 13-1 in SLL play, one game ahead of Gibsonburg (15-7, 12-2 SLL).

It was Lakota's first SLL volleyball title since 2001.

Gibsonburg, which handed Lakota its only league loss early in the season, was tripped up by Eastwood on Sept. 19, then dropped the pivotal SLL match of the season at Lakota 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 on Oct. 3.

Lakota closes regular-season play tonight at Fremont St. Joseph and begins Division III tournament play with a sectional final at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at Hopewell-Loudon against the winner of Saturday's sectional semifinal between Riverdale and Upper Sandusky.

Five athletes have been inducted into the Maumee athletic hall of fame.

James Earle, a 1956 graduate, and Greg Adams (1979) earned nine varsity letters each during their playing careers. James Heilman (1958), Brian Buck (1990) and Amy (Sterman) Ramlow (1993) also were inducted.

Earle was a four-sport standout, participating in track, football, basketball and baseball.

Adams earned honors as a three-sport athlete competing in football, basketball and was All-Ohio first team in baseball.

Heilman was a top player in football and played baseball.

Buck, who is a teacher and coach at Maumee, excelled in football and wrestling.

Ramlow was a standout soccer player who went on to play on Ohio State University's inaugural women's soccer team.



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