Can sister act become winning act? AFNORTH hopes so
October 23, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – The DODDS-Europe tennis season is a time when fledgling doubles teams learn about their new partners. In some cases, even when those new partners know almost everything else about each other.
The AFNORTH girls double team of experienced junior Sophia Essrich and promising freshman Amelie Essrich is still in the midst of that process. The sisters have spent a lot of time playing together – mostly “bike riding and other sports,” Sophia said – but competitive tennis is a new pursuit.
“This season we really focused on tennis,” Sophia Essrich said. “This is our first season where we really worked together as a sister team.”
Part of that is due to necessity – as an eighth-grader last season, Amelie’s involvement with the high-school team was restricted.
That’s all changed this fall. A full-fledged Lion now, Amelie has teamed with her elder sister to form one of the premier girls doubles teams in the 2014 DODDS-Europe tennis championships. The three-day event opened Thursday at three sites around Wiesbaden.
“We’re really enjoying playing together. It’s a lot easier when you’re sisters,” Sophia Essrich said. “We yell at each other and we love each other. It’s great.” While simply playing high-level tennis together is a reward in itself, the Essrich sisters are optimistic about their chances to advance as the bracket narrows over the next two days.
“First of all, we want to have fun,” Amelie Essrich said. “But yeah, it would be cool if we got far.”
While the deep doubles brackets sorted themselves out, there was a major upset in the singles ranks.
Defending champion Jade Sullivan of Wiesbaden took a stunning 6-0, 6-0 loss to Patch’s No. 2 singles player, Marissa Encarnacion. The loss won’t necessarily knock the reigning champion out of the elimination bracket, however; she would advance with two pool-play victories Friday morning.
Warriors coach Tom Rooney said Sullivan simply encountered a skilled and "consistent" opponent who got the better of DODDS-Europe's incumbent ace. He said Encarnacion, who is working her way back from injury, neutralized Sullivan's power-oriented approach and "took her out of her game." He added that he advised a discouraged Sullivan to make adjustments and work her way back to a potential Saturday rematch with Encarnacion. Boys singles top seeds George Shaffer of Naples and Fabian Sandrup Selvik of International School of Brussels, meanwhile, cruised to three pool-play victories apiece.
The Essriches are one of many newly-formed doubles teams still fine-tuning their chemistry even as the season draws to a close. That includes the top duo from Ramstein, which features returning doubles champion Hannah Hering alongside new sidekick Bailey Stokstad. The Royal team is the top seed in the pool B; the AFNORTH sisters are the second seed.
On the boys side, returning Kaiserslautern doubles player Joshua Merchat has found continued success with new sophomore partner Henry Butler. The two were an energetic presence throughout a marathon first day, with Merchat constantly bouncing from foot to foot and approaching his younger teammate for a high-five after nearly every point, for or against. The newbie Butler, meanwhile, was adjusting well to the larger stage.
“There’s a lot of people here, a lot more at stake,” Butler said. “It pushes you to perform at your best.”
The pair needed every bit of skill and enthusiasm to get through their early-morning opener. The top seed in their pool, the Raider tandem was nonetheless pushed to the brink of an upset in a 4-6, 6-4, 10-5 win over the uncooperative fourth-seeded team from Naples, John Sullivan and Chris Bracken.
“We weren’t really expecting it to be that difficult,” Butler said. “But we pulled through.”
Even the more experienced Merchat was taken aback.
“First match of the day, just getting a lot of the rust off,” Merchat said. “Once you get into it, that’s when you just go for it.”
A later straight-set defeat of Hohenfels calmed the team’s nerves and restored their confidence that they can contend as the tournament goes on.
“We came in awake and ready to go,” Merchat said of the comfortable win over the Tigers. “I feel like this is our speed. We’re definitely doing well so far.”
Pool play in all brackets continues Friday morning, while semifinal matches in boys and girls singles and doubles are set for Friday afternoon. European champions will be crowned Saturday.