by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Their top player had some health issues throughout the season.
They had very little experience compared to the previous year.
And worse yet, they had a losing record for the first time in eons.
They also finished third in their division during the regular season.
In the end, though, none of those things made any difference whatsoever.
Five and counting for the Lady Explorers.
The Hudson girls tennis team won its fifth consecutive Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division Tournament title Sept. 27 at Brush High School in Lyndhurst.
The Lady Explorers finished with 63 points to win the title. Solon took second with 54 points and Mayfield placed third with 49 points.
"It was a great team victory," 12th-year Hudson head coach Tim Morgan said. "Everyone came together. It was very rewarding."
Going into the tournament, Hudson (3-2) finished third in the Valley Division standings behind Solon (5-0) and Mayfield (4-1) during the regular season. By the way, both those teams beat the Lady Explorers earlier in the season.
Since Hudson finished third during the regular season, Solon won the overall title. The Lady Explorers settled for second and Mayfield took third.
But that certainly didn't spoil Hudson's party.
"It was a very good day," Morgan said. "It was remarkable to see these girls fight through adversity."
And what kind of adversity did they face?
Their top player, senior Kati Mdzinarishvili, who has played first singles for the last three years, missed a number of matches because of a back injury. Because of Mdzinarishvili's absence, Morgan was forced to juggle his lineup, which had a number of new faces on the roster.
Although the rest of the girls held their own and made significant progress, the Lady Explorers finished with a 9-11 record.
"The girls took it as a challenge," Morgan said. "A lot of people thought we didn't have a chance because of our dual record. With Kati having a bad back, we had to put kids in tougher spots. In the long run, it helped them. They benefitted from the experience."
Despite the back troubles, Mdzinarishvili, a state qualifier in 2011, gave Hudson 12 crucial points by finishing second at first singles.
Mayfield's Jamie Vizelman earned a hard-fought 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Mdzinarishvili in the final.
Mdzinarishvili, who had an opening-round bye, earned a 6-3, 6-0 win over Medina's Emma Deimling in the semifinals.
But the play of Mdzinarishvili's teammates proved to be the difference in the Lady Explorers' road to the championship.
Isabelle Mawby won the second singles' title and Hudson's first doubles team of Connie Chen and Grace Graham and second doubles team of Vanessa Kreiss and Sujude Dalieh also walked away as champions.
Mawby claimed the second singles' championship with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Stephanie Schmitt of Mayfield.
She also posted a 6-4, 7-5 win over Monika Bandi of Solon in the semifinals and a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Mentor's Kim Gliebe in the quarterfinals.
"During the regular season, Schmitt and Bandi beat Isabelle," Morgan said. "That shows Isabelle's improvement. She returned the favor."
Chen and Graham had to fight off some stress en route to the title.
After earning a convincing 6-1, 6-1 win in their quarterfinal match against Mentor's Katie Gorjup and Victoria Radel, Chen and Graham posted a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Mayfield's Lianne Mulvihill and Julia Caine in the semifinals. The Lady Explorers pair rolled to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Solon's Hailey Baird and Caroline Moore in the final.
Like Mawby, Chen and Graham lost to both Mayfield and Solon during the regular season.
"The semifinal match was the turning point of the tournament," Morgan said. "Connie and Grace were down 5-2 in the second set. After they rallied, they were fired up and then they rock and rolled in the final."
Kreiss and Dalieh also got some revenge at the tournament.
After cruising to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mentor's Hannah Stanich and Hannah Robertson, Kreiss and Dalieh earned a 6-3, 6-4 win over Mayfield's Liz Rotenberg and Kristen Hsu in the semifinals.
Kreiss and Dalieh took the title with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Solon's Vritti Samtami and Kristen Hsu.
Kreiss and Dalieh lost to both of those Mayfield and Solon teams during the regular season.
"All four of those girls [the two doubles teams] brought their 'A' game," Morgan said. "
That was the theme of the day. Isabelle, Connie and Grace and Sujude and Vanessa beat players that beat them during the regular season."
Jielu Wang scored six points for Hudson by finishing fourth. She lost a 6-4, 7-6 decision in the third-place match to Medina's Emily Speckman.
"I'm just so proud of all the girls," Morgan said. "They all played well on the same day. That might have been the missing link during the regular season."
The Lady Explorers were scheduled to compete in Division I sectional play Oct. 1 at Medina High School. Results were not available at press time.
District play is set to take place Oct. 10 at Oberlin College.
Morgan has had more talented teams than this year's squad. In the long run, though, the 2013 team's title may be the most satisfying win in the veteran coach's career.
"I would have to say this is the one," Morgan said.