Wilson edges Moomau, but Judges beat Colonels 8-1

By Robert Niedzwiecki

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The highest ball hit all day was also headed farther off the court than any shot prior.

But Headley Wilson, bouncing off the court as she watched the ball’s descent, wasn’t going to take her eyes off it for a millisecond. The James Wood High School junior had worked too hard — on two separate days — for this moment.

Although host Handley dominated the team competition by an 8-1 score Wednesday, Wilson earned a breakthrough moment. In a match in which the area’s top two girls’ tennis players continuously charged back at each other, Wilson defeated Handley senior Sarah Moomau 10-8 at No. 1 singles, her first-ever win over the defending Northwestern District singles champion. “It was floating in the air, and I was just like, ‘When are you going to drop?” Wilson said of Moomau’s stab at Wilson’s overhead smash on match point. “This is a big win for me. I definitely know now that I can beat her.”

After surrendering a 9-6 lead in an 11-9 loss to Moomau on April 6, it’s a sensation Wilson wanted badly to obtain.

The Judges (10-2, 7-0 Northwestern) went with an all-senior starting lineup for senior day against James Wood (0-13, 0-6), and singles positions two through six were able to catch much of the drama on the No. 1 singles court by quickly taking care of business, losing just four games between them.

In the early going, it was hard to tell how much drama there would be. Though Wilson was clearly the aggressor, smacking four winners through the first four games, her 11 unforced errors in that stretch left her trailing 3-1.

“I knew that I had to be aggressive, and I was just trying to find my window of how I can hit the ball,” said Wilson, a two-time Group AA doubles champion with former teammate Kari Pope. “I know that I need a little time to warm up. Taking just swings of the balls is how I try and get myself in a groove. After those first couple of games, I was able to get those [aggressive shots] for points.”

One of Wilson’s best shots of the match helped get her comeback going. With Moomau serving, the right-handed Wilson stretched into the doubles alley to hit a backhand with no score in the fifth game. She took a half-swing, and the end result was a cross-court winner and an enthusiastic “C’mon!” to herself.

“That really got my psyched,” said Wilson, who finished with 29 winners and 34 unforced errors to Moomau’s seven and 13, respectively. “I was missing shots that I knew that I could hit. I saw that shot, and when I actually hit it in I was like, ‘Yes, I can hit these shots.’ It wasn’t out of my reach.”

Wilson broke at love to start a run that saw her win six of seven games and hit several backhand volleys and overhead slams for winners.

Not surprisingly, Moomau — who didn’t suffer the first loss of her high school career until last year’s Region II singles final and was unbeaten this season — refused to go quietly.

Moomau won the next two games to cut Wilson’s lead to 7-6. Wilson rebounded to go up 9-6, but two games later, a deep backhand shot down the line from Moomau that Wilson could do nothing with made the score 9-8 and once again left her one game from squaring the match.

Wilson talked to herself both quietly, as she did in the corner after losing serve at 9-6, and loudly, saying, “You can do this,” after the first of two deuces in the following game that she lost.

With Wilson serving, Moomau hit a backhand winner down the line to open the 18th game, and it was beginning to look like history might repeat itself. But Wilson’s inner voice took over.

“I had to mentally power through the fact that I let her back in last time, so this time I really needed to focus on closing her out, because I was pretty much in the exact same position as last time,” Wilson said. “I knew I couldn’t get discouraged if she hit a good shot, because she is going to hit good shots. I had to focus on short memory. I needed to move on from that point and play my game.”

An overhead smash and a forehand winner put her up 30-15. Wilson then threw in a double-fault, but two points later Wilson closed the match out with a hard, deep shot that Moomau could only float back, setting up Wilson’s final slam.

After Wilson walked off the court, she engaged in high fives with several people and received a hug and a kiss on the cheek from her mother.

Though Wednesday’s defeat was a rare one from Moomau, her spirits were plenty high afterward. She smiled often in her 10-3 victory with Katie Gordon at No. 1 doubles, and she was trying not to laugh in her post-match interview while her teammates joked around.

Given that Moomau will almost assuredly see Wilson again in the postseason, she said she’ll just try to improve the things she didn’t do well Wednesday.

“I was actually really confident up at 3-1,” Moomau said. “Maybe I let myself get unfocused, I don’t know. But she raised her game, and my game went down a little. I was having an off day and she was just playing really well.”

Moomau said she left too many balls short, which is dangerous against someone who loves playing at the net as much as Wilson.

Overall, though, it was a good day for the Judges. Of the seven seniors honored before the match, only Alyssa Drennan didn’t play.

Gordon, who intends to play for Bridgewater College next year, won 10-0 at No. 2 singles; Taryn Burke won 10-2 at No. 3; Hannah Skedsvold won 10-1 at No. 4; Fionna Surette won 10-1 at No. 5; and Alex Scully won 10-0 at No. 6.

The group enjoyed a cake prepared for them afterward, but Moomau — who is deciding between Longwood and Christopher Newport for next year — said there’s too much tennis ahead for the three-time defending Group AA champions to think about what senior day represents.

“It’s a subdued celebration for a couple reasons,” Handley coach Tommy Arthur said. “The first reason is we’ve still got a month to go to head toward the prize that we want. And the other is that we do a little bit more in-depth look at each senior at the end of the year, and that’s when I have to worry about crying too much. It’ll be a little more intense the next time we do it.”

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