The 2012 District 6 girls singles tennis championships featured a pair of first-time winners. For one, it was her last chance at district gold. For the other, it may be the first of more to come.
Altoona senior Ashli Livermore defeated Hollidaysburg's Marissa Lanzel, 6-3, 6-1, to capture the AAA title, and Central Cambria freshman Hannah Swope knocked off Tyrone's Ana Hollen, 6-2, 6-1, for the AA crown Saturday at the ProCare Health and Fitness Center.
For Livermore, it was a sense of "relief" to break through and win the district championship after finishing runner-up to Hollidaysburg's Mariah Turiano a year ago. She also finished runner-up in the doubles championships last year and three years ago as a freshman.
"I worked really hard to get back to this match and finish it off this time," Livermore said. "I wasn't as aggressive as I could have been last year. I didn't want to walk away this year regretting that I didn't do something I should have done."
Despite not playing quite as aggressively early on in the match, Livermore jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, but Lanzel won three of the next four games to fight her way back into the set.
Livermore won the next two games to close out the first set and went on to take the second set for the title.
"I got a little more aggressive mid-first set, and kept my foot on the gas pedal in the second set," she said. "I didn't want to let up because when I do that's when I start to struggle."
Lanzel had some success hitting to Livermore's backhand and getting her on the run, but it wasn't enough to overcome Livermore's consistent shot placement.
"Marissa played about as well as she could have played," Hollidaysburg coach Brian Denis said. "The final score didn't indicate how tight the match was. Almost every single game went to deuce."
Livermore is Altoona's first district singles champ since Olivia Walton won back-to-back titles in 2006-07.
"Ashli got the big points when she needed them. It was a highly-contested match. There were a ton of deuces," Altoona coach Eric Hovan said. "I don't think I've ever been happier for one of my players. She's worked so hard. It wouldn't have seemed right if she graduated without winning."
As Livermore's high school career winds down, Swope's is just getting started.
A good mix of shots served the Central Cambria freshman well in the championship match. A strong forehand combined with lob shots and varying spin on the ball kept Hollen on the baseline and off the net.
"I like playing at the net, but she kept me deep a lot," Hollen said.
Up 3-2 in the first set, Swope swept the final three games to take the opening set and dropped just one game in middle of the second set to wrap up the title.
"I was nervous at first, but once I shook that off, I played my game and started mixing the pace of my shots," Swope said.
Like in AAA, the match was closer than the final score would indicate with many games going to deuce and a number of long volleys.
"The one point must have gone back and forth 40 or 50 times," Tyrone coach Mike Hample said. "Ana played very well. There were a lot of deuce and ad points that could have gone either way."
Hollen is already looking ahead to next year, thinking about a possible rematch.
"I didn't put a whole lot of time in before the season, and I paid for it now," she said. "It's a hard lesson to learn. I'll focus on it more and come back again next year."
The finals matchup was a bit of an odd pairing in that neither school the two attend has a girls tennis team.
Hollen, who is a sophomore at Bellwood-Antis, plays on the Tyrone team as part of a co-op between the two schools. Swope hones her game through clinics, lessons, and various tournaments. She also runs cross country for Central Cambria.
As district champions, Livermore and Swope qualify for the state championships starting Nov. 2 in Hershey. Livermore is slated to play the District 1 fourth-place finisher in her opening round match. The AA bracket has Swope facing the District 11 champion in her opening match.