Prep Sports

Girls' state tennis: Emma and Audrey Koch handle nerves to advance to doubles semifinals

Iowa City West sisters aim for state title Thursday

Iowa City West's Emma Koch. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa City West's Emma Koch. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Even playing in familiar surroundings, the nerves of being a No. 1 seed can surface.

Iowa City West’s sister tandem of Emma and Audrey Cook have played countless times on the Hawkeye Recreation & Tennis Center courts. However, they have never played there before a state tournament crowd.

“I think we had spurts of really good tennis,” Emma said. “We had to get accustomed to the atmosphere, especially with Audrey being just a freshman. We play here a lot, but it is different with so many people watching.”

The sisters fought their way through to the state semifinals on Wednesday with a pair of straight set victories, but there were a few nervous moments.

They started slowly in their opening match before downing Ankeny Centennial’s Alyssa Lewton and Alli Gustafson, 6-2, 6-1. After cruising to a 6-0 first-set win in the quarterfinals against Dubuque Hempstead’s Joyce Sun and Erin Connolly, the Kochs had to battle hard to take the second set, 6-4.

The sisters were the only Gazette-area players to qualify for Thursday’s semifinals in either singles or doubles. The top four seeds in both divisions advanced to the semifinals, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. with the finals to follow.

The Kochs will meet Ames’ Caitlyn Hanulikova and Chloe Wilson, the No. 4 seed, in their semifinal.

Emma gave her sister plenty of advice in advance of their first match together at state.

“I just told her to not be nervous and just enjoy it because this is a lot of fun,” Emma said. “I didn’t want her to be intimidated by the energy because all of our other matches are just usually in front of our parents and there isn’t much cheering, so I just kind of had to warn her about that.”

Audrey admitted the pressure was there, but was quick to add she was lucky to have somebody with her sister’s experience playing beside her.

“I’d say I just put more pressure on myself,” she said. “My family doesn’t put any pressure on me. It’s definitely really cool to be playing with somebody so experienced being in the championship and at state in general.”

The sisters know what it would mean to finish off a title run together.

“That would definitely be a one-of-a-kind feeling,” Emma said. “Not many people get an opportunity to play with their sibling.”

Audrey said “I agree, to be able to win it with Emma would be such a cool thing.”

The Cedar Rapids Kennedy duo of Shelby Cook and Vina Venkaesh came close to making the semifinals. After defeating Ames’ Hanulikova and Wilson in the first set, they dropped two tightly contested sets, eventually falling 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Cook and Venkaesh rebounded to down Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Maddie Slagle and Emma Lassen in straight sets and will play in Thursday’s consolation semifinals.

In singles, Iowa City West’s Jessica Moonjely and Iowa City High’s Bihotza James-Lejarcegui are alive in the consolation round. Both lost in the quarterfinals Thursday, then came back to post consolation wins to advance to Thursday’s consolation semifinals.

In Class 1A play at Waterloo, Xavier’s Nina Marquardt and Emily Jasper advanced to the doubles semifinals with a pair of wins. The Saints duo will meet the top-seeded team of Olivia Fain and Taylor Hogan from Waterloo Columbus in the semifinals.

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