MADISON — Seeing a different style of play can really take a player out of their element.
Portage’s Leah Hollander found that out the hard way Thursday, as the senior lost her quarterfinal match at the Division 1 Waunakee girls tennis sectional at Neilsen Tennis Stadium. Hollander, who is the first Portage girls tennis player to advance to sectionals since Katrina Schmudlach in 2010, was left flat-footed against Verona sophomore Meredith Conley.
“It was just a different style of play for her,” Portage coach Sarah Pulliam said of Hollander. “Leah has had different styles of matches this season that have less alley and drop shots.”
In the opening set, Hollander fell behind 3-0 early on, struggling to keep up with Conley, who was a state qualifier for Verona last year as a freshman. Conley hurt Hollander with her alley shots down the line. That trend continued, as Hollander ultimately dropped the set 6-0.
After getting swept in the first set, Hollander again slipped behind early and ultimately fell in the second set 6-0. Hollander nearly got on the board in the third game of the second set, pushing it to deuce, but was unable to pull through.
“Each changeover, she went out and knew what she needed to do, but it just wasn’t quickly enough,” Pulliam said.
For Hollander, reaching sectionals was a great accomplishment despite the early exit.
“It was my goal to make it to sectionals my senior year, so I just wanted to have fun and try hard,” she said. “I was excited to come here and I really wanted to try hard against the La Crosse Central girl (at subsectionals) so I could come to sectionals.”
While short-lived, Thursday’s sectional appearance was a culmination of four years of hard work for Hollander, enjoyed by both her and Pulliam.
“They’ve just been so much fun,” Hollander said. “She’s the best coach, her and Alex (Firari) have taught me so much and I’m glad I played tennis.”
Pulliam added: “She’s just grown as an athlete and a person. It’s going to be a huge loss for us next year.”