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Lady Lions come up short in finale

STATE COLLEGE — In the aftermath of his team’s 3-0 loss to host State College in the District 6 Class 3A girls team tennis championship match Tuesday afternoon, veteran Altoona Area High School coach Eric Hovan had no trouble finding a silver lining.

That silver lining, Hovan maintained, was as noticeable and prominent as the heart and spirit that this Altoona team, especially its seniors, had displayed throughout the past several months.

Altoona entered Tuesday’s championship match against top-seeded State College on the State College Area High School tennis courts with an unbeaten record and a chance to defend its district team title.

The fact that Altoona, which finished 12-1, came up just short against an 8-0 juggernaut State College opponent took nothing away from what Altoona had managed to accomplish in a season that was like no other, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I have nothing but respect for this whole team — especially our senior class,” Hovan said. “We have a very special group of seniors who worked so hard and were so much fun to coach.

“These young ladies were tremendous all season, especially considering everything that everybody had to go through with the pandemic,” Hovan added. “There were two undefeated teams playing here today, and unfortunately, somebody had to lose. State College is a very good team. They’re very good at the top of their lineup, and their doubles teams are really solid. They deserve credit — they played better than we did today.”

State College — which will advance to a first-round PIAA team match against a District 4 opponent at a neutral site on Oct. 28 — got singles victories from sophomore Quianna Guo in the No. 1 spot and junior Marissa Xu in the No. 3 spot, along with a doubles triumph from the team of senior Rachel Butterbaugh and junior Madeline Miller in the No. 2 doubles spot.

Guo topped Altoona senior Isabella Frank, 6-0, 6-1, while Xu won her singles match, 6-2, 6-2 over Altoona senior Emily Neil. Butterbaugh and Miller defeated Altoona’s doubles tandem of seniors Brooklynn Rupert and Mya Crownover, 6-2, 6-3.

Those were the only three matches that were played to completion, since the Little Lady Lions clinched the decision for State College.

Altoona had led the No. 2 singles match, in which sophomore Morgan Stevens won the first set over State College senior Catelyn Janac, and the No. 1 doubles match, in which the team of senior Eve Hogan and junior Emma Skelley also held a lead after one set over the State College squad of seniors Sruthi Ramesh and Keya Ahrestani.

Altoona defeated State College last year in the District 6 team championship match on the State College courts, but State College came loaded for bear Tuesday.

It was only the second district team title in State College coach Jane Bowen’s three-decade career, and Bowen said that her players worked hard to earn it.

“We had only won one in my 28 years here before today, but I felt that we had a good chance to win,” Bowen said. “All seven of our kids came out here and did what we asked them to do. We executed well, and we beat an excellent Altoona tennis team.

“I couldn’t be happier for our girls,” Bowen added. “They worked extremely hard in the offseason and during the season leading up to today.”

Hovan was quick to give credit where credit was due.

“I’m really proud of how our kids competed,” Hovan said. “I thought we played well. State College was just the better team today.”

SINGLES: 1, Guo, SC, def. Frank, 6-0, 6-1. 3, Xu, def. Neil, 6-2, 6-2.

DOUBLES: 2, Miller-Butterbaugh, SC, def. Rupert-Crownover, 6-2, 6-3.

Records: Altoona (12-1); State College (8-0).

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