MIDDLETOWN — Caesar Rodney may have won the team title at the DIAA girls tennis championships on May 25 at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, but one opponent prevented the Riders from sweeping all four of the finals for which they qualified.
That opponent would be Ella Strohmaier, the Archmere junior who entered the second doubles bracket as the second seed. She put together a solid performance against No. 1 Erin Gross of Caesar Rodney, winning in two sets, 6-4, 6-1. Strohmaier became the Auks’ first individual girls champion since Abby Podolsky in 2017, also at second singles.
“It feels amazing,” Strohmaier said. “We’ve had Andy win, but we’ve never had a women’s player win since I’ve been at Archmere.”
Andy is Andy Zhu, Strohmaier’s classmate who won his third straight state title at boys first singles.
To get there, Strohmaier had to get by Gross, who went undefeated this season, dropping just 12 games in her 15 regular-season matches, then another five in three tournament matches before the final. Strohmaier, who reached the semifinals last season, had never played Gross and studied what she could find.
“I knew that she had a hard serve and a weaker backhand. When I’m in practice, I’m working on hitting to that backhand corner,” she said, adding that she practiced with some boys who had a strong forehand shot.
Gross took a 2-1 lead in the first set, coming back from love-40 to do so. But Strohmaier broke serve to tie, and the pair was tied again after six games. Strohmaier took the lead for good when she went ahead, 4-3, coming back from a love-40 deficit to hold serve. She rallied from that deficit to win twice in the first set and again in the second set.
“I just view it as a challenge. It kind of gets me motivated to try and take that game back. Every game matters in these types of matches,” she said.
The first set ended on a double fault by Gross, but Strohmaier made that possible with two superb shot placements earlier in the game. The momentum carried over into the second set, with Strohmaier starting with the serve and ending the first game with an ace.
Gross held serve to tie it up, but Strohmaier would win the next five games to take the championship. She broke serve to go ahead, 3-1, with a shot that caught the end line. Each point drew cheers from her Auks teammates, parents and coaches, but Strhomaier said she tried to stay focused.
“I try to not think about anything and focus on the game, try to tune everything else out, like the cheering and all that,” she said. “And just don’t change anything about my game. Try to just keep it consistent. Don’t play timid or scared. Just keep attacking.”
She did, and when the final shot of the match landed wide, an individual girls title was guaranteed for the Auks.
“It feels really good to bring that back to the school.”
The Auks finished second overall to the Riders in the team standings.
All photos by Mike Lang.