Malkova wins marathon
match at No.2 singles as
Stars pull out 3-2 victory
By Justin Sokeland
Her knees ached, her head was spinning, and her coach was a nervous wreck, almost afraid to watch as Bedford North Lawrence senior Nikola Malkova, an exchange student from far away, went the long way for a rare victory on Friday night.
The marathon match started in brilliant sunlight and ended in stark contrast. By the end, the only sounds were the chirp of crickets, the thump of a ball connecting with a racket, and the shrieks of teammates as Malkova won a duel in the darkness to drag the Stars through a wearisome match.
As the last match remaining on the dimly-lit courts, with the outcome riding on her, Malkova won a three-set, 3-1/2 hour brutal battle with Madison’s Riley Boone at No.2 singles, the final and swing point in BNL’s 3-2 triumph in the consolation round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament.
The Stars (2-10) advanced to the 5th-place match against Jeffersonville on Monday afternoon.
When it was over, when the match point of a grueling 5-7, 7-6 (9-7 in the tiebreaker), 6-4 win was finally put away, Malkova could barely walk off to celebrate. Knees are not constructed to absorb that much punishment on asphalt for that long. But her win made the Senior Night cake taste even sweeter.
Malkova, a visitor from the Czech Republic, didn’t know she had the mental toughness to survive the stress of a must-win situation. Neither did her coach.
“She psyches herself out anyway, so to see her pull that out is huge for her,” BNL coach Joni Stigall said. “She does everything she can to lose a match in her head. Seeing her win is a really good improvement.”
The duel was one of attrition. Both players were overly cautious, returning most shots safely to the center of the court in the hope the other would make a mistake.
“I really, really tried to keep my head in,” said Malkova, whose command of English is just good enough to lead to comical sentences. This time, she knew what to say. “I didn’t think about anything else. I was thinking every single ball has to be in, I can’t make a mistake.
“It was kind of exciting. This was my first experience like this, when somebody really counted on me. I’m so proud that I made them proud, that we won because of me. But it was really hard.”
Malkova’s march toward midnight – it didn’t quite take that long, but it started to feel that way – wasn’t the only extra-set exchange. Four of the five matches went three sets, and two included tiebreakers. The Cubs (4-6) were stubborn and persistent. BNL was frustrated and a bit desperate. It made for great theatre.
“If that’s what it takes, we’ll stay here all night,” Stigall said.
BNL needed two other wins, and both were almost as tough as the lengthy Malkova-Boone clash. Hope Martin rallied, thanks to a pep talk from her coach, to wipe away tears from her eyes and bounce Anna Bruns 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 at No.1 singles.
Jenna Williams and Olivia Riley also went the distance at No.2 doubles, posting a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 win over Sydney Poling and Claire Lostutter.
“Jenna played fantastic at the net,” Stigall said. “They pulled it off. That was a good win.”
The Cubs won the second-longest match of the might at No.1 doubles as Annie Marsh and Emma Stacier bounced past Jaclyn Dufrense and Ali Adams 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4. After the Stars won the second-set tiebreaker and took a 3-2 lead in the third, they appeared to own momentum, and Malkova’s match would not have mattered. That scenario switched quickly.
Almost forgotten was the quick encounter at No.3 singles. Madison’s Maddie Robinson conquered McKenzie Messmore 6-1, 6-1.
The Stars will host the Red Devils in the final round of the HHC, one of the final preparation events for the IHSAA sectional.
“I’m relieved,” Stigall said. “It’s better than what I would have thought three weeks ago.”
BNL 3, MADISON 2
Singles: 1. Hope Martin, BNL d. Anna Bruns 2-6, 7-5, 6-3; 2. Nikola Malkova, BNL d. Riley Boone 5-7, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4; 3. Maddie Robinson, M d. McKenzie Messmore 6-1, 6-1
Doubles: 1. Annie Marsh and Emma Staicer, M d. Jaclyn Dufrense and Ali Adams 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4; 2. Jenna Williams and Olivia Riley, BNL d. Sydney Poling and Claire Lostutter 6-4, 5-7, 6-1