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Gibbs beats Kozinski to win Sectional crown

Brianna Gibbs is returning to the state tournament, this time as sectional champion.

The Williamsville East freshman came back to defeat Clarence sophomore Nicole Kozinski in three sets Saturday to win the Section VI Girls Tennis Championship at Village Glen Tennis Club in Williamsville.

Gibbs, who earned the No. 1 seed by winning last week’s ECIC singles championship, went to states the past two years after placing third in the sectional tournament.

“It was a big goal of mine to win [sectionals] this year,” Gibbs said. “Last year I hurt my back. I played through it but I couldn’t hit through the ball on all my shots. There were such great players, I couldn’t overcome that.”

The newly-formed Orchard Park team of Rachel Johnson and Kristen Zablonski won the doubles title with a straight set victory over North Tonawanda’s team of Gretchen Ringler and Jessica Robbins.

Johnson, a junior who took last season off, and Zablonski, a sophomore who never played tennis before, both waited until the very end of August before deciding to join the tennis team this season.

“I’m glad I came back,” Johnson said. “I missed playing tennis.”

Johnson and Zablonski were Orchard Park’s third and fourth singles players this season and did not start playing doubles together until two weeks ago. At last week’s ECIC tournament, the pair defeated Orchard Park’s top two singles players, Shayleen Brennan and Grace Ruh, to earn the No. 1 seed at sectionals.

“The two of them are great athletes,” Orchard Park coach Sandy Trampert said. “Great, soft hands from playing softball, great hands from lacrosse, great hand-eye coordination and they are light on their feet.”

Fredonia’s Georgianna Gens defeated Lockport’s Leighanna Hewes, 6-3, 6-1, in the third-place match to join Gibbs and Kozinski on the Section VI roster for next weekend’s NYSPHSAA Girls Tennis Championships in Albany.

Gibbs defeated Hewes, 6-0, 6-0, in the semifinals, then waited while Kozinski defeated Gens, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

The extended rest did not favor Gibbs, as she dropped the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-4), before coming back to win the final two sets, 6-0, 6-1.

“In the first set, she was playing crazy good and I couldn’t win anything,” Gibbs said. “In the second set, I stayed strong and got it together and clamed down and started really doing well. I started getting more balls in and stopped trying to just slap everything. Spinning more balls and hitting it more toward her backhand.”

Johnson and Zablonski fell behind, 3-1, in the first set of their semifinal match against the Williamsville North team of Erin Lippa and Jackie Oestreicher, before winning, 6-4, 6-1.

Ringler and Robbins required more effort to beat their semifinal opponents, Williamsville East’s Amy Xiao and Ananya Murty, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-3.

The extra rest helped Johnson and Zablonski breeze through the finals match, 6-1, 6-2.

“I’m delighted,” Trampert said. “Not only do they take their tennis seriously, but they also have a lot of fun together.”

“We are really excited to go next weekend and have fun,” Zablonski said. “And miss school. That’s a big part of it.”

Gibbs will bring her championship aspirations to Albany.

“Last year I got through two rounds and in seventh grade I got through one,” Gibbs said. “This year I want to win it.