WEXFORD — Elle Santora stared across the net at a familiar face Thursday afternoon at the Oxford Athletic Club during the WPIAL Class AAA Girls Doubles Tennis championships.
Standing there was Mars sophomore Emily Ivory. The two had grown up together with a tennis racquet in their hands at Butler Country Club.
“I can't even tell you how many years it's been,” said Santora, a Renfrew native and a junior at Shady Side Academy after spending her freshman year at Knoch. “We were basically babies when we started.”
Thursday, Santora and her Shady Side Academy doubles partner, Aya Youssef, squared off against Ivory and Amelia Haley for the WPIAL championship.
Santora and Youssef took a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
“It was a really intense match,” Santora said. “It could have gone either way. I think what really decided it was my partner. She hit some amazing ground strokes and rallied and rallied and rallied.”
Santora also was a standout at the net against the Mars duo.
“Elle was seeing the court really well,” Ivory said. “She was so good at the net and she played really smart.”
Not bad for Santora and Youssef, a tandem that was put together less than two weeks ago for the WPIAL doubles tournament.
“She definitely is more of a single player,” Santora said. “Our styles do mesh.”
Mars was in position to take the first set, leading 5-4 and up 40-love with set-point, but Santora and Youssef rallied.
“It was a momentum-killer,” said Mars coach Mark Varlotta. “But I was impressed with their guts in the second set. They didn't back down and they played hard.”
Santora and Ivory didn't have a chance to talk before the match, but they did get together after to snap a picture with Whitney Snyder, the tennis pro at Butler Country Club.
“I can easily say (Snyder) is the reason I'm still playing tennis,” Santora said.
Snyder was understandably proud of two of his club players.
“For two girls to come out of the same small country club program and make the WPIAL finals in any sport is a tremendous accomplishment,” Snyder said. “They are both kind girls, role models for other girls in our program to look up to because of their sportsmanship and playing ability.”
Ivory is also grateful for what the Butler Country Club program has done for her.
“It's given me a lot of opportunities,” Ivory said. “This is the first time I've made it to some of the bigger stuff and it was fun to be able to play against Elle. We used to play each other a lot, just for fun.”
Despite the loss, Ivory and Haley will still move on to the PIAA Class AAA tournament, which doesn't start until Nov. 2 at the Hershey Racquet Club.
They are the first doubles team in the history of the Mars program to advance to the state tournament.
“It's definitely nice to be recognized,” Ivory said. “Tennis never really has been recognized a lot.
“We're pretty excited,” Ivory added. “We're excited to go to Hershey.”
Santora has some experience on the state stage, advancing to the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals during her freshman year at Knoch.
Last year, Santora was upended in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament and didn't play doubles.
It's been a satisfying bounce-back year for Santora, but she and Youssef aren't taking anything for granted at the state tournament.
“We know it will be much harder and there is a greater scale of players,” Santora said. “We're not the only ones to win (district) titles there.”
No matter what happens, Santora said she will always relish playing against Ivory in such a big match.
“It was nice playing against (Emily),” Santora added. “She's a sweet girl and a great opponent.”
Cranberry Eagle staff writer John Enrietto contributed to this story.