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District title staying in the Ratchford family

Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers CC’s Emma (left) and Olivia Ratchford celebrate their victory.

It’s often been said that it is more difficult to defend a championship than it is to win a first one.

Central Cambria Area High School’s dynamic cousin duo of senior Emma Ratchford and junior Olivia Ratchford pulled off the title defense of their District 6 Class 2A girls tennis doubles championship on a gorgeous, sun-splashed afternoon Wednesday at Mansion Park, defeating Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic’s team of Sarah Manna and Erin Talko in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

“There was definitely a lot of pressure,” Central Cambria coach Kim Cavalier said about the Ratchford girls’ quest for a title defense. “They love the game, and they take it to heart. The BG team is a very tough team that played incredibly well in Monday’s semifinal round.”

The Ratchford girls played a very disciplined, deliberate style of tennis en route to their title defense for top-seeded Central Cambria.

“They’re both strong players,” Cavalier said. “We practice strategy and setting up certain shots — in doubles, that is the key. Both players had good strategy tracking the ball, setting up their shots, and communicating with each other. It’s kind of like having a playbook for football.”

The Central Cambria team advanced to the PIAA Class 2A state doubles tournament at Hershey for the second straight year. That event will be held Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Hershey Racquet Club for all district Class 2A and 3A doubles team champions.

State College, seeded third in the District 6 Class 3A doubles championship, won that event and advanced to Hershey as the team of junior Catelyn Janac and freshman Quiana Guo defeated Altoona’s top-seeded tandem of sophomore Emma Skelley and freshman Morgan Stevens in the title match, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Emma Ratchford said that the pressure of having to defend the title actually served to benefit her and her cousin Olivia in the long run.

“I think the pressure of having to defend the title kind of got in our heads a little bit at first, but it also made us want to work harder to continue our winning streak,” Emma said. “I think the key for us was to focus — we had to be focused the whole time. BG has two really good players, so we just had to keep our eye on the ball and work together.”

Olivia Ratchford said that the cousins are close friends who have a good rapport on the court with each other.

“We’re definitely really close with each other, and that helps a lot when we’re playing,” Olivia said. “We calm each other down, and have a fun time playing together. It feels amazing to get a chance to go to Hershey — especially doing it with my cousin. It’s a great feeling, knowing that we did it together.”

Last year, the Ratchford team won one match at states but was eliminated from the tournament in the second round. This year, they hope to do better.

“Hopefully, we can make it to at least the second round,” Olivia said. “I think if we had won in that round last year, we would have medaled.”

Cavalier had high praise for both Ratchford girls.

“I’m proud to be their coach,” Cavalier said. “They’re both hard workers. Our whole team this year worked hard and was made up of a good group of girls. They make me look good.”

Bishop Guilfoyle’s second-seeded team of senior Manna and sophomore Talko gave a game effort in the finals.

“I’m very proud of the way they came together and played as a team, because they rarely get to play doubles together,” BG coach Julie Donovan said of the Lady Marauders’ doubles finalists. “They changed their game when they needed to. They just fell a little short today. It was a high-quality doubles competition.”

In the Class 3A event, the Altoona team of Skelley and Stevens had State College on the ropes, but State managed to pull out the victory by winning a tie-breaking set.

“It was a great performance by Emma and Morgan,” Altoona coach Eric Hovan said. “They’re a sophomore and freshman who played like upperclassmen, and they competed like crazy all through the season and into the playoffs.”

Hovan felt that the second set, in which Altoona battled back from a 5-1 deficit to tie before losing 7-5, was pivotal.

“We had a lot of momentum and a chance to finish it off, but to (State College’s) credit, they took the set off of us,” Hovan said.

The State College team overcame a sluggish start to win the title.

“It took awhile for us to begin to execute,” State College coach Jane Borden said. “We made a lot of unforced errors, but once we started hitting the shots, we were OK. Both teams played well and both teams played with incredible poise.”

As well as emotion, according to State College’s Janac.

“We’re super excited for states,” Janac said. “(Teammate) Kim (Guo) is just a freshman, and it’s great that she provided such a big hand for us. It was a good match.”

DISTRICT 6 CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP

(Seeds in parentheses)

(3) Janac-Guo, State College, def. (1) Skelley-Stevens, Altoona, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

DISTRICT 6 CLASS 2A CHAMPIONSHIP

(1) E. Ratchford-O. Ratchford, Central Cambria, def. (2) Manna-Talko, BG, 6-4, 6-3.

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