ROCHELLE – Three years in a row, Dixon's Riley Bally took third at the sectional. No one in the Class 1A Rochelle Sectional was able to stand in Bally's way on Saturday, and it didn't take her long once she got onto the court to establish herself on top.
Bally is the sectional singles champion following a 6-1, 6-1 title match win over Sycamore's Ella Sharp and a 6-1, 6-0 semifinal win over Freeport's Anika Fosler.
In her final, Bally said the key was "being consistent and having good placement, as well as adjusting to the wind."
Bally took the first three games of the first set before Sharp was able to answer to win a game. Bally soon closed out that set, and then again charged ahead by winning the first three games of the second set.
Against Sharp, Bally was able to bring her opponent to the net with drops shots, occasionally blasting a shot past her when Sharp charged the net and Bally had the opening.
"Usually she would hit it high and I could hit it past her," Bally said. "It was mostly a strategy, but also with the wind, depending on the shot, if I did a drop shot, the wind would push it over a little bit."
In the semifinal against Fosler, Bally took the first three games of the first set before a brief rain delay, then broke Fosler's serve in the first game after the restart before Fosler broke back to make it 4-1. But Bally finished off that set, then took all six games in the second set.
The rain, which also put a halt to things Friday pushing some of the quarterfinal matches to Saturday morning, returned Saturday, and even when it left, players were dealing with strong winds.
"Depending on where the wind was blowing, I had to hit harder or softer because the wind could push the ball out or in or where I don't want it to go," Bally said. "I just had to adjust."
At one point in the semifinal, Fosler threw the ball in the air to serve, only to have it land behind her out of reach. Balls players hit thinking they were in were sailing long with a tailwind or hitting the net in the face of a headwind.
Boylan's Maddie Montalbano hit an ace in her quarterfinal against Sterling's Lexi Rodriguez when a strong gust of wind hit the ball as it crossed the net and dropped it to the ground, bouncing twice in the service box before Rodriguez could react.
In a doubles match between Sycamore's Abby Golembiewski and Olivia King and Rochelle's MeLisa Young and Jordin Dickey, a ball hit by the Rochelle duo landed on the Sycamore side of the net before the wind blew it back over to the Rochelle side before the Sycamore players could respond. The same thing then happened again on the next point.
Rodriguez, capping off her first season of tennis, took third with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Fosler in the third-place match.
Rodriguez trailed the first set 3-2 before rattling off four straight wins to close that set, and five to open the next.
"I was just getting the hang of the wind and just going to the net more to hit more volleys, just to save my legs and get better control of the ball," she said.
Rodriguez reached the semifinal with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 win over Boylan's Maddie Montalbano in the quarterfinal.
In a back-and-forth third set, Rodriguez was able to take a 5-4 lead with a chance to serve for the win. The two traded points in the final game before Rodriguez charged the net for a point to get to match point, then charged the net again and looped a ball over Montalbano's head for the winner when the Boylan player had charged the net as well.
Rodriguez fell 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinal against Sharp.
Bally reached the semifinal with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Boylan's Zophia Prasher and a 6-0, 6-1 win over Newman's Sarah Tunink.
In a normal season, that would have clinched for Bally a fourth straight trip to the state meet, but this year the state meet has been called off due to COVID-19.
"It is pretty bittersweet, but it's nice to know I ended my season with a win," Bally said.
Rodriguez also ends her season with a win, one with otherwise would have meant a state trip in a sport she just took up over the summer.
"Just because I'm so competitive, I wanted to win this," she said. "I haven't been grateful enough that I just made it in a sport that's not even one I play.
"Just to have to push and keep pushing at something to be good at it, and not just naturally good because I've been playing so long, and just knowing that if I keep working, my goal was to make it to this."
Tunink had scored a 6-4, 6-0 second-round win over Lutheran's Katelyn de Guzman.
Another Duchesses-vs-Comets battle in singles came on the other side of the bracket, where Dixon's Taylor Harrison beat Lilliana Campbell 6-1, 6-1. Harrison then lost in the quarterfinal 6-1, 6-1 to Sharp.
Sterling's Madison Hubbs earned a 6-1, 6-1 win over Rochelle's Emma Hicks before a 6-3, 6-2 loss to Fosler.
Lexi Rodriguez earned a 6-0, 7-5 win over Freeport's Jamie Rodriguez.
No area doubles teams made it to the semifinal.
Sterling's Olivia Pitkin and Amy Zeigler took a 6-4, 6-2 win over Dixon's Emma Russell and Leah Kuehl in the first round before a 6-3, 6-0 loss to a duo from Rockford Lutheran in the second round.
A Sycamore doubles team beat Marisel Schalck and Cecilia Sagel from Newman 6-0, 6-0. Rochelle's doubles pairing beat Dixon's Miriya Jones and Meagan McGlown 6-2, 6-2.
With a singles runner-up and a doubles champion, Sycamore won the team title with 28 points. Dixon was second with 18. Sterling finished fifth. Newman tied for seventh.