Woodstock’s Quarterfinal Win Is Worth the Wait

Woodstock — Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown … until the tiebreaker ends.

Woodstock High senior Lizzy Miller owned the grin beneath a green plastic tiara, and with good reason, after she and her girls tennis teammates stuck out a 4-3 win over Harwood in their Vermont Division II quarterfinal at the Woodstock Racquet and Fitness Club yesterday. Before joining Sophie Leiter for some senior status recognition, Miller got to enjoy the two most nerve-shredding things about Vermont high school tennis these days — the wait, followed by the rush.

The Vermont Principals Association has asked tennis-playing schools to enforce a rule requiring postseason meetings begin with the top three singles matches along with No. 1 doubles. That meant Miller, at No. 4, and junior Marissa Farbman, at No. 5, were looking at close to a two-hour wait before they could take the court for the third-seeded Wasps (9-3).

To make matters more interesting, Miller — in her first season at singles following a career at doubles — was stretched to a first-to-10-points tiebreaker by the Highlanders’ Jenna Golden, who split their first two sets with identical 6-3 scores. Playing her first such match-decider, Miller reeled off six straight points en route to a 10-6 victory.

Minutes later, Farbman polished off Harwood’s Grace Hurwitz, 7-5, 6-3, to book semifinal passage for a young team not certain of its capabilities two months ago.

“This season, I haven’t had to do a third set at all, so I practice it a lot in practice,” said Miller, whose result gave Woodstock a 3-2 lead at the time. “It’s very odd when you’re in it, because you know it’s do or die. But I do like that it’s 10 points. There is some wiggle room.”

The sixth-seeded Highlanders (6-7) kept Woodstock wiggling all day. Harwood won two of the afternoon’s three third-set tiebreaks, rallying from a set down in both cases.

Farbman, whose match started with maybe one person watching and ended with everybody’s eyes fixed on her, avoided a similar end by stopping Hurwitz. The junior let 2-0 and 4-2 leads get away in her opening set and needed to come back from an early deficit in the second.

“It felt really good; I’m excited for our team,” Farbman said. “I was hopefully going to pull it out, and it was a tough first set. Second set, I felt the adrenaline. … It wasn’t easy on either end, especially with the heat, but it felt great to win.”

Farbman, Miller and sisters Amelia and Kathleen Sheppard are the latest to ascend Woodstock coach Tom Hopewell’s development system. Hopewell’s preference for young players is to suit up for doubles for a time before moving into a singles slot.

Save for an occasional flip-flop in order with Miller and Farbman, the singles lineup Hopewell presented yesterday has been consistent through the spring.

“We knew the Sheppards and Lizzy and Marissa were going to step up; they did their time in the doubles,” Hopewell said. “They’ve been solid, and solidly progressing, all along.

“I’d say 80 percent of my singles players have played doubles for at least a year. Rarely do you step up and get a freshman who’s that big of a gun to take a spot in the singles. You want to be comfortable at the net? Play some doubles. That’s how we try to work it.”

Leiter is the rare exception, debuting at No. 5 singles as a freshman. Now No. 1 as a senior in the wake of Woodstock’s graduation losses, Leiter earned her 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Harwood’s Ally Behn but working her way through early serving difficulty and winning eight of the 10 deuce points the two played.

“We guide Sophie through things; she knows pretty much what we need from her, and she does everything we ask of her,” Hopewell said. “It’s her game to fine-tune at times, and she does.”

The full seven-match schedule took more than three hours to complete, and at no time did one school have more than a one-match lead.

After Leiter dismissed Behn, Harwood’s first-doubles tandem of Megan Meaney and Mia Burfoot dropped a 6-1, 6-2 loss on the Wasps’ Morgan Hartman and Kate Miller. Kathleen Sheppard’s 7-5, 6-2 defeat of the visitors’ Shelby Parette begat an equalizing 3-6, 6-2, 10-3 win for Chase Fortier over the Wasps’ Amelia Sheppard, whose day included busting a string on her racket just as her opponent was reviving from an 0-2 hole in set two.

With a half-dozen post-match pizzas bound for hungry Wasps going cold, Miller saw her win countered by Harwood’s Sarah Brodeur and Maddie McGeorge (5-7, 6-3, 10-2 over the Emmas, King and McLiverty). Looking composed and comfortable, frequently pausing to regain or maintain her concentration, Farbman clinched in solid fashion.

“We’re a really unified team with great seniors and the two Sheppards for juniors,” Farbman said. “We have a really strong team now. Everybody plays well. We’ve seen great improvement. I’m excited for next year, too.”

For Miller and Leiter, the postgame tiaras and flowers proved timely. With a semifinal date at No. 2 Montpelier on Tuesday, they got to enjoy a win in their final home match.

“Honestly, I did not think that we would make it this far,” Miller said. “We usually have an easy first playoff game, but this year obviously that wasn’t the case. I’m very impressed with everyone’s progress this season, and I’m excited we’ve gotten to this point.”

Net Cords: In addition to faux jewelry and flora, the Wasps all wore T-shirts bearing the words “we (heart) our seniors” in gold lettering to honor Leiter and Miller. … According to VPA annals, Woodstock hasn’t had a losing girls tennis season since 1988. The Wasps are seeking their first state title since 2000. … No. 5 Springfield will visit No. 1 Burr & Burton in Tuesday’s other semifinal.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.