Not only did they make the return trip, this time around they walked away with the win and the D1 South title.
After falling to Wellesley in the South final a year ago, top-seeded Sharon exacted some revenge this time around, sweeping singles play for a 3-2 win over the previously unbeaten and second-seeded Raiders.
While most programs make it a goal to get this far, Micheroni had the confidence to pencil it in that the Eagles would be back.
“They never give up,” Micheroni said of her now 23-0 Eagles. “They just work real hard, every practice, every match. They were just waiting for this day and they really came through, I’m really proud of them.”
Part of the reason for the confidence was that Sharon brought its two top singles players back from last year’s squad, plus a handful of experienced doubles players.
And on top of that, the Eagles got a huge boost with the addition of freshman Emily Zhang, who has started at second singles all season.
With Zhang in the fold, junior Lulu Yuan – the 2015 Hockomock League MVP – made the switch from first singles to third singles, and sophomore Nupur Shukla moved up from second to third singles.
“It was crazy, it was so emotional,” Yuan said of the win. “We’ve been waiting for this moment. I knew that this year, with this team, we would win.”
Yuan put the Eagles on the board first in the match, quickly jumping out to a 4-1 lead before winning the first set 6-1. The second set didn’t take much time as Yuan finished off her opponent in similar fashion, walking away with a straight set 6-1, 6-1 win.
Yuan, who was named team MVP, has taken the move from first to third singles in stride.
“I think it was really beneficial for the entire team,” Yuan said. “I know that getting a win at third singles get help the team win the match. Having players like Nupur and Emily that I can depend on, it’s really helpful. I love my position.”
Yuan is unbeaten on the year, and has only lost a total of four games – two of which came against the Raiders.
“She’s just phenomenal,” Micheroni said of Yuan. “It says so much about her because her primary interest is the team. She’s the heart of the team, she leads them. She went out there this season and set a goal to not drop a game all season. She really gave herself something to aspire to and to make her game better. So many other people would have done the opposite in her situation. She really played with class all season.”
The Raiders evened the match at one game apiece with a win at second doubles. Sharon’s Rithica Neti and Sophia Fein had tied the match early in the second set, but eventually fell 2-6, 3-6.
Sharon moved back into the driver’s seat as Zhang came away with an impressive win at second singles. Zhang jumped out to a 2-1 lead over Wellesley’s Caitlin Avery, one of the top singles players in the area, and won the first set 6-3.
Zhang didn’t slow down at all, going ahead 3-0 in the second set and eventually scoring a 6-2 win at the second set to put the Eagles up 2-1.
“I thought I was able play pretty consistent and place the ball well and make her move,” Zhang said. “Moving her around caused some mistakes for her.”
“Enormous addition to the team – she’s such an integral part of our team,” Micheroni said of Zhang. “She goes in there and she does her job. She’s very precise, she’s very consistent – she does just her job.”
That put all the eyes on first singles. With first doubles split one set apiece, the teams took a timeout as first singles finished.
Shukla built a 3-0 lead in the first set only for Wellesley freshman sensation Alex Coleman to win three of the next four, cutting the lead to one. Shukla came through, taking the first set 6-3.
At the time of the break, Coleman held a 4-3 lead in the second set. The two split the next two sets, giving Coleman a 5-4 edge and just four points away from forcing a third set.
Instead, Shukla – who was down 0-15 and 30-40 and just one point away from a third set – rallied, tied it at 40-all, won the advantage point and won the next point to tie it at 5-5.
Coleman, who was serving, raced out to a 40-0 lead, again just one point away from winning the next point. But Shukla had other plans, rattling off five straight points to take a 6-5 lead in the set.
“I was just trying to get my serves in, I wasn’t going hard with them because I noticed she liked that pace,” Shukla said. “And then I wanted to keep it on her forehand because she kept ripping her backhand shots down the line.”
It was time for Coleman to rally, overcoming a 0-30 hole and winning the point to make it 6-6, sending the second set into a tiebreaker.
“I couldn’t see myself playing a third set,” Shukla said. “I had my teammates and the crowd cheering so me and I knew that if I put my mind to it, I could pull through, which I’m glad I did.”
With the momentum of her side, Coleman jumped out to 3-0 lead, the last point coming a spectacular shot down the line. But once again, with her back against the wall, Shukla rallied with four straight points to go up 4-3.
After Coleman tied the game, two straight points from Shukla made it 6-4. Coleman cut it to one again but Shukla finished the tiebreaker off with a great shot that forced an error, giving her a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win and the Eagles the clinching point for the sectional title.
“I always say Nupur is the rock of our team,” Micheroni said. “She never falters, she has sheer determination out there and she’s never going to back down from an opponent. And you saw it today, that’s how she plays.”
“I know that she has a lot of fight in her, we knew she’d be able to come back,” Zhang said of Shukla’s clinching point. “Even if she’s a couple games down, she’s not out of it, she can come back.”
“She’s an amazing player and a great teammate,” Yuan said of Shukla. “I never doubted that should we be able to pull it out and win.”
Sharon’s second doubles resumed play before Shukla’s win in a tiebreaker, so the match went to a third set instead of a 10-point tiebreaker. Katie Merport and Emily Wen, who won the first set 6-4 but lost the second set 3-6, fell behind 1-4 in the third set.
But even with the title clinched, the Eagles’ duo didn’t give up and battled all the way back to tie the match 5-5. With very little light left to work with – the match now over three hours long – it was agreed to send the match into a tiebreaker. Wellesley won the tiebreaker, 7-0.
Sharon girls tennis moves on to the D1 State Semifinals on Monday, June 12th. The Eagles will play the North champs, Westford Academy (13-5) at Newton North High School at 3:30.