Locals start well at state tennis

CHARLESTON – Tennis is meant to be played outdoors, but it doesn’t take much rain to force the action under a roof.

Fortunately for the Madonna tennis players who competed Thursday in the opening day of the Class AA/A state tournament, they’re accustomed to swinging inside by now.

The Blue Dons, who played the OVAC championships indoors and practiced in similar controlled conditions Tuesday, reacted well to wet weather in the Kanawha Valley, winning five of nine matches at the Tennis Indoor Center.

They weren’t the only locals who had success.

Weir’s Barbara Suliminova, an exchange student from Slovakia, picked up a pair of wins at No. 2 singles and played this morning in the semifinals.

Also in the No. 2 singles semis is Oak Glen’s Madison Juszczak. She was the state champ a year ago at No. 4 singles.

Teammate Haley Spurlock won her first round match, but dropped an 8-5 decision in the No. 1 quarterfinals.

The Golden Bears’ Madison Hill lost in the quarterfinals.

At No. 1 doubles, Suliminova and teammate Claudia Diaz of Spain are in the quarterfinals after an 8-3 victory.

Spurlock and Juszczak received a bye at No. 1 doubles.

Oak Glen’s Addison Sayre saw his season end after a quarterfinal loss at No. 1 singles. He won his first round contest, 8-2.

The Lady Golden Bears are tied for first with St. Joseph, Petersburg and Parkersburg Catholic after the first day of action.

Because of their first-day success and a wide-open field, the Dons have a chance to make a run at the state team title over the weekend. The boys team collected three wins while the girls had two.

“We have a deep team,” head coach Kelly Sinsigalli said. “That’s what we’re all about. We have high hopes for tomorrow.”

No. 1 singles players Matt Conforti and Ali Welch each claimed comfortable first-round victories to get Madonna off to a good start. Despite being hindered by a flu-like illness, Conforti rolled 8-1 against Man’s Larry Browning before bowing out to Williamstown’s Luke Flanagan.

“I slowed my pace down a bit,” said Conforti, a regional champion along with No. 4 singles player Alan Alamario and the third doubles team of Ryan Watts and Cole Roberts. “I’m looking forward to feeling better tomorrow.”

Welch took care of Hannah Bowman from Independence 8-3 to begin her day; she lost by the same score to Petersburg’s Kelsie Roby later in the afternoon while fighting a similar ailment to Conforti.

Thomas Gianni followed an identical path at No. 2 singles, winning 8-3 over Wyoming East’s Alec Lusk before falling to Williamstown’s Aaron Leo, while girls No. 3 Elizabeth Conforti downed Emilee Russell of Liberty 8-1 to advance to today’s semifinal round

“I was going into this for the fun,” Conforti said of her state tourney debut. “There was a gallery, but I just stayed calm.”

In boys No. 1 doubles, Matt Conforti and Gianni scored an 8-2 victory against Wyoming East’s top duo, moving on to further play.

The last Blue Dons on the court were Welch and Christina Conforti in the top girls doubles flight. They lost 8-3 to Independence as the competition reached its 12th hour, completing their high school tennis careers.

Madonna scheduled a practice earlier in the week at the YMCA in Robinson, Pa., thinking that rain might strike the Tri-State Area. The weather ultimately held off, but the session successfully prepared the Dons for what they faced Thursday in Charleston.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” assistant coach Jeff Gajtka said of the decision to hit inside. ” The practice helped a ton. The ball moves faster and the lighting is different (indoors).”

Although the Dons were well-prepared for the change in plans, the venue switch from the waterlogged Schoenbaum complex cut the number of available courts from eight to four. As a result, it made for a long day.

“I think the kids did a good job getting rest,” Sinsigalli said. “It was different from what we’re used to, but I think we advantage of the slower pace. I’m thrilled we got as many matches in as we did.”