MASON, Ohio — As a sophomore, Eaton’s Macy Hitchcock has already accounted for many firsts for the Eagles’ tennis program.
She’s the first district champion and state qualifier for the Eagles, accomplishing both feats as a freshman in 2019, and repeated those successes this year.
But, after the D-II State Tennis Singles Tournament this past weekend, she’s added another first to that list: state champion.
Entering the tournament as an underdog, Hitchcock pulled off an upset in the finals over defending D-II state champion Sydni Ratliff from Columbus Academy in two sets, 7-6, 7-5, to be named the first state champion in Eaton tennis history.
Her state title run began on Friday with a 6-0, 6-1 over Claudia Adcock (Orrville) and a 6-1, 6-3 win over Ellie Brotherton (Shaker Heights) to move on to Saturday’s semifinals.
“I thought the groundstrokes were there in the first round match,” Eaton coach and Macy’s father John Hitchcock said. “I think the opponent made her be a little focused, but I thought she was a little looser, freer this Saturday, and that definitely helped.”
Macy’s semifinal match would come against Orange High School’s Alexis Nyborg, a two-time state qualifier, though like most of Macy’s matches this season, she was able to take care of the competition with ease, winning 6-3, 6-0 to move to the finals.
While Macy entered the tournament with some impressive accolades of her own, it was nothing compared to the resume of Sydni Ratliff, the defending D-II state champion who had not lost a set the entire season through 18 singles matches.
Ratliff was not only the D-II state champion in 2019, but was also the runner-up in 2017 and 2018, so she already had extensive experience playing in the D-II state finals. Additionally, Ratliff is a five-star recruit who is committed to Ohio State’s for 2021.
Despite the caliber of player Macy was going up against, she said she didn’t feel any pressure.
“Honestly, no. I walked in there and I was like, ‘You know what, we’re gonna have a good time. I made it to the state finals. I’m a sophomore. We’re just gonna have a great time,’” she said.
The first set could not have started out worse, as Macy found herself down 1-5 and on the brink of dropping the first set.
“At that point, you kind of think, ‘Ah, it’s a wash.’ I was like, ‘Just, start playing your game.’ I think she was nervous to start a little bit despite what she said, which was natural,” Coach Hitchcock said. “I think she pressed and tried to go a little bit too much, too soon, so I was just hoping to see her play and improve just so we could take that into the second set and try to make it a match.”
Ratliff was not dominating by threading the needle on shots, but by engaging in long rallies and forcing mistakes. She had the demeanor of a state champion, and it showed early in the match.
From there on, however, Macy was able to dig down and fight back into the match.
“My mindset, honestly, was just one point at a time,” Macy said. “I didn’t want to be intimidated going into the match because she won last year and everyone just kept talking about how they were intimidated, and I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s tennis. You just have to win one point, and then another point, and then another, and you can win.’ And that’s what I just kept telling myself.”
She won the next five games to make it 6-5 before Ratliff forced a 6-6 tiebreaker, where the first player to score seven points (and win by two points) would win the set.
“As the game started tallying in her favor, then you start thinking, ‘Can she really pull it off?,” Coach Hitchcock said. “But you still don’t really want to get to that point, but then at 5-all, then you knew it was game on.”
Again, Macy found herself down early 2-4 in the tiebreaker, but would win five of the next six points to take the tiebreaker 7-5 and the set 7-6, completing the first won set against the defending champion this season.
“You could sense that she was really gaining the momentum and her opponent was really starting to get flustered and bothered by her comeback,” Coach Hitchcock said. “That was working in Macy’s favor as well, so you knew there was a chance.”
The second set was a new playing field for both competitors, as Ratliff was on her heels for the first time this year and Macy had the opportunity to do something that no Eaton tennis player ever had.
The calm and collected composure of Ratliff prevailed early in the set, though, as she jumped out to a 5-2 lead, looking to send the match to a third and final set.
Faced again with a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Macy responded the only way she could; playing one point at a time.
She took one point, then another, and then another, ultimately winning the next five games to avoid another tiebreaker and win the second set 7-5 to complete the comeback and win the D-II State Tennis Singles Tournament.
“It feels amazing and good to know that all the hard work that I’ve put into it has paid off,” she said after the win.
Beyond keeping a positive mindset during the finals, Macy said she improved throughout the state tournament and that helped to give her confidence against Ratliff.
“[My play] definitely improved,” she said. “At the start, I was playing pretty well, and then playing Alexis this morning gave me some confidence that I needed to get through Sydni today. I’m very proud of myself for staying cool. I’m notorious for kind of getting in my head a little bit. But today, I maintained it and stayed real calm.”
Coach Hitchcock has the unique perspective of watching Macy compete not only as a coach, but as her father, saying he tries to stay in “coach mode” during the match. Once Macy completed the win, he went right back to “father mode,” picking her up and spinning her in a circle as they celebrated the win.
“The win is where it kicks in [as a father.] During, you just try to be in coach mode,” he said. “But, as Dad, you can give them the speeches and stuff at home or on the car ride in, so that’s kind of nice, because then you can just allude to it real quick during a changeover. To see it actually happen was pretty cool. Knowing what goes in to her training and everything – it’s pretty consuming, so it’s just really awesome to see her get it and also get it for Eaton for the first time.”
As Coach Hitchcock alluded to, Macy is not only Eaton’s first district champion and state qualifier in tennis, but its first state champion, and he said it’s pretty special for the Eagles.
“For a school like Eaton, to get a state champion, I think it’s pretty unique,” he said. “In this sport, if you compare our school with some of the other school banners that are up there, you know, you start comparing the demographics – we shouldn’t excel in this sport. So, it’s cool for her to do that.”
Now that Hitchcock has brought home a state title, when will the preparation begin for her title defense next season?
“Honestly, probably in the next couple of days,” she said.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles