From the Bolons to the Olivers.
The Bath tradition of sending sisters to state continues after Anne and Elena Oliver qualified for the Division II state tennis tournament Friday. The Wildcat duo will face the Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy pair of Lynn Kader and Payton Puryear in the first round.
The last three years, Esther and Ruby Bolon represented Bath as a doubles team and this year the Oliver siblings are heading to Mason after finishing second at the district meet.
Bath head coach Sandy Dackin said having the Bolons make it to state was instrumental in the Olivers making it because they saw what they could do and competed against them in practice which in turn elevated their games.
“I think that encouraged them to work harder and realize that they could do the same thing,” said Dackin, who added that she was not surprised the Olivers made it to the state finals.
“I definitely think it helped,” Elena Oliver said about having the Bolons as teammates. “They were really good competition and I got to play with them for two years and she (Anne) got to play with them for one and having that experience and them making it to state so I been getting advice from them so they were a good help.
Like the Bolons, both Anne, a sophomore, and Elena, a junior, decided this year to participate as singles players in the regular season and then team up as doubles partners for the postseason. Last year, the two played as a doubles team and made it to districts, missing state by one match, and the two said they used that as motivation this year to make it to state.
Dackin said playing singles helped these two elevate their games. Elena Oliver was the Western Buckeye League runner-up in No. 1 singles and Anne Oliver was the No. 2 singles runner-up.
“I definitely think it helped,” Dackin said. “Each of them grew and not just skill-wise with tennis but mentally gaining some toughness just when you are on your own on your court versus on the doubles court. They both technically advanced their skill level from last season to this season and they take a lot of time. They take lessons and they are very dedicated and super hard workers.
Dackin admitted that she did not know how they would compete at the singles level.
“Honestly I didn’t know how it would go,” Dackin added. “Each player coming back moved up a court. We lost the Bolons and everybody moved up and assumed different roles and from the get-go Elena and Anne both really dominated their courts and they strategically and tactically got better and progressed and honestly they took charge from day one.”
Anne Oliver said about playing singles, “I think it helped me because when you are playing singles its all you and you have to work out all the problems and if you make a mistake it is your fault so you have to learn to work with that.”
“I think with singles play you have a lot more court to cover so my footwork got a lot better which helps with doubles when you don’t have as much court to cover and our height as well helps us cover quite a bit of court,” Elena Oliver said.
Pairing them as a doubles team was an easy decision.
“That was pretty much a no-brainer and they would have more success together than individually,” Dackin said.
Elena Oliver said playing with her sisters as a doubles partner is a lot of fun.
“We also had thought that playing together we would make it farther as a doubles team than singles,” Elena Oliver said.
Anne Oliver said the two well together because they have each other’s back.
“I can make a mistake and yet I have someone else who can back me up whenever it comes to the next point or something,” Anne Oliver said. “It is not just your mental game. It is the two of us working together.”
“I think think it is really cool having the sister connection,” Elena Oliver said. “I think it makes us a stronger doubles team knowing each other and then having each other as support and helping each other through it.”
As a team at sectionals, the team took first place and then followed it up with a second place performance at districts.
And while they marched through the sectionals and into the district finals, Dackin admits the two had to get reacquainted with their doubles game again.
“I wouldn’t say they jumped right back into it but they did need to get reacquainted with each other even though they are sisters,” Dackin said. “They do have some challenges there but they are a lot more mature than they were last year and they gel a lot better and when they are playing together I truly think they are kind of unstoppable. They have the height. They have the athleticism.”
Elena Oliver echoed her coach’s sentiment about playing doubles again and getting back to the strategy of playing doubles and added that playing doubles with her sister last year helped them get back into the groove a little easier.
Both coach and players agree the net play of the Oliver’s has been a big factor in winning at the doubles level as well as getting in first serves and communication.
“We have a lot of good net play and when you have that reach and when you can just poke the ball that really helps ,” Anne Oliver said. “Lobbing is a big part of doubles but it is hard to lob us so I really like the net play.”
Dackin added their determination also plays a major role in the two’s success.
“They are super competitive. They are smart and they both have great court awareness,” Dackin said. “They can see in advance where they need to put the ball and they can do it. Their skill level pretty high.”
Dackin adds that they will need to utilize all their skills and continue what they have been doing.
“No. 1, they need to play together and rely on each other and two get the net,” Dackin said. “They are a force. Like I said they are tall and athletic and can cover a lot of the court and if they can own the net they will be pretty successful.”
Elena Oliver said the goal is simple at state, “Go out and have some fun and enjoy the experience because it is a really unique opportunity and we would love to win and that is always a goal.”
“We have already made it there so anything we can do there would be just exceed our expectations and we want to have fun,” Anne Oliver said.
LCC’s Libby Simmons
It’s not easy making it to state as a singles player. It takes a little luck, a lot of skill and the mental capacity to achieve that goal
Lima Central Catholic’s Libby Simmons put all those together this year and did it as a sophomore finishing fourth at districts to qualify for the Division II state tournament at Mason Friday.
In her first match, Simmons will face Pepper Pike Orange’s Alexis Nyborg, who qualified for state for the third time and finished fourth last year.
“I am really proud of myself,” Simmons said. “I finally went to districts last year and got to move forward this year.”
An injury hampered Simmons’ efforts last year so she came into this year wanting to prove she could make it back and take it a step more.
“I think I have improved a lot,” Simmons said. “I just have to keep my mental game strong along with the physical.”
Lima Central Catholic head coach Paige Collins said at the beginning of the season she saw a lot of potential in Simmons.
“I was the assistant coach last year and she went to the first round in districts last year in doubles with a senior and then seeing her potential this year grow as first singles player was fantastic,” Collins said. “She really put in the work, sometimes doing two practices a day so it was absolutely fantastic to see her grow as a tennis player but as a person this year and then to make it to the district finals is fantastic.
“I think a lot of it is her speed and her mobility, along with just playing the mental game of tennis that is so important and it all goes hand-in-hand and that maturity and that growth is absolutely amazing what she has done in the past year.”
Simmons admitted to being nervous going into the postseason but said she played the best she could, and with a little luck, she succeeded.
“I like my serve a lot,” Simmons said. “I think my serve is pretty good. “I think my forehand is better than my backhand.”
Collins said she saw that once the sectionals began, Simmons played her own game.
“She can play a very hard tennis game or she can play a very smart tennis game when it comes to her shots and both of those things are very important and she used both to make move onto that next level.”
Like the regular season and the postseason, Simmons is approaching state the same way and that is play the best she can.
“I want to prove that I can do it,” Simmons said. “I am already proud that I made it but I want to play good there too.”
Collins added that preparing for state they are staying positive and even though there is a lot of strong competition Simmons made it for a reason.
“She is a great player and so we want her to do all those things that got her here and staying positive and these are great players she can learn a lot from,” Collins said. “I think our biggest goal is to have some fun and go out there and learn a lot from the past state qualifiers and to play her heart out and do as good as she can, and then from next year getting her back there again. Our next goal is to get her there the next two years and possibly win it.”