Doubles champs use little time to win big

By Jon Fleck

For the Mirror

After competing in singles play all season, Hollidaysburg’s Veronica Helsel and Jenee Delerme and Central Cambria’s Olivia Ratchford and Liza Brady had less than a week to prepare for start of the District 6 doubles tournament.

It turned out to be plenty of time for both to prevail.

Helsel and Delerme downed teammates Chloe Love and Payton Ruggery 6-1, 6-1 to win the 3A championship as Ratchford and Brady knocked off Westmont Hilltop’s Lindsay Pullin and Abby Majercsik 6-3, 6-2 for the 2A title Thursday on adjacent courts at Gorilla House Gym.

For Helsel and Delerme, it was a chance at redemption after falling in last year’s championship match to the Altoona duo of Lindsey Hallinan and Maura Skelley.

“I think they kind of used last year as motivation. They lost a tough three-setter to Altoona and felt they missed some opportunities to win it,” Hollidaysburg coach Brian Denis said.

It was a little tougher having to do it at their teammates’ expense, though.

“Last year was whole different setting. It was a long, tough match. We were playing our rival,” Helsel said. “This year was a little more friendly and relaxed playing teammates.”

“We all wanted to win and be competitive but still be best friends when we come off the court,” Delerme added.

After Love and Ruggery won the opening game of the match, Helsel and Delerme reeled off six straight wins to take the first set. Love and Ruggery also won a game early in the second, but Helsel and Delerme finished strong to clinch the gold medal.

“Veronica and Jenee were sharp. They didn’t make mistakes. They were solid at the net, finished volleys and got in a high percentage of first serves,” Denis said.

Love and Ruggery did what Helsel and Delerme could not last year, however. They defeated Hallinan and Skelley in the semifinals to set up an all-Hollidaysburg final for the fourth time in the last eight years.

“Chloe and Payton are our number one doubles team. They were really pumped for the Altoona match. Having to come out here and play with that same kind of intensity against their teammates was tough. They just couldn’t get anything going from the outset,” Denis said.

The 2A match went a little longer with Ratchford and Brady going back and forth with their Westmont opponents throughout most of the first set.

Each team held serve through the first seven games before the Central Cambria tandem broke the Lady Hilltoppers in game eight and went on to take the set, 6-3. It looked like it might be more of the same when Westmont won the opening game of the second set, but Ratchford and Brady took the next five and went on to the win.

“Our shot selection got better. We were doing really well at the net and our serves were really good,” Ratchford said.

“We had so much energy and excitement. We just wanted to close it out and get the medal,” Brady added. “It took a lot to get used to being up at the net, but I’ve gotten better at that. Lobbing it over the person at the net really helped us.”

For Ratchford it was a much easier match and better result than the singles championship last week when the Lady Devil’s freshman lost a three-hour, three-set match to Tyrone’s Tina Hollen.

“It feels really good. We’ve worked so hard. I’m proud we made it this far. We worked really well together and really bonded this week,” Ratchford said.

Brady, a senior, had nothing but praise for her younger teammate.

“I’m so happy to be able to share this with Liv. She’s at the age I just started to play tennis. I’m excited to see where she goes from here,” Brady said.

Ratchford and Brady beat Tyrone’s Ava McCracken and Lara Pilgrim in the quarters, and ousted Central’s Yvonne Longenecker and Kennedi Berkheimer in the semifinals Tuesday to reach the finals.

Helsel and Delerme knocked off Altoona’s Kayley Burke and Alese Rinker in the quarterfinals and downed Central Mountain’s Jolee McCluskey and Kendall McCluskey in the semis Wednesday to advance.

As district champs, both teams move on to the state doubles tournament in Hershey starting Nov. 3.