First-set finisher propels WB’s Costner to landmark title

William Blount High School senior Madison Costner gets into a big return during the District 4AAA championship match Tuesday afternoon at the William Blount courts. Costner became the first district singles champion in William Blount history with a 7-6 (10-8), 6-0 win over Maryville’s Payton Robinette.

William Blount High School senior Madison Costner gets into a big return during the District 4AAA championship match Tuesday afternoon at the William Blount courts. Costner became the first district singles champion in William Blount history with a 7-6 (10-8), 6-0 win over Maryville’s Payton Robinette.

Rebel sophomore Yusuke Yodono gets around on a big backhand.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Rebel sophomore Yusuke Yodono gets around on a big backhand.

Robinette fights off a high backhand at the baseline.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Robinette fights off a high backhand at the baseline.

Maryville freshman Payton Robinette lines up a squarely-struck backhand.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Maryville freshman Payton Robinette lines up a squarely-struck backhand.

Costner looks over her racquet between points.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Costner looks over her racquet between points.

This was so big.

The match, history, even, could turn on this next point, and Madison Costner wasn’t about to miss it.

The William Blount High School senior took a full swing on a serve from Maryville freshman Payton Robinette at the end of a first set tie-breaker Tuesday afternoon at the William Blount courts.

The smooth, left-handed topspin drive won Costner immediate control of the point, which she promptly secured to take the opening set in the District 4AAA championship match. The second match for both players on a day with temperatures in the upper 80s, it proved the decisive stroke, Costner rolling at love in the second set en route to a 7-6 (10-8), 6-0 victory and the first Lady Governor district singles titles in program history.

Afterward, Costner was joined courtside by Lady Governor assistant coach Cassie Moulton Borden, who, along with former doubles partner Kellie Rimmer, had won William Blount’s first and only district doubles championship in 2005.

“After the match, she (Moulton) came out and said she was proud of me,” Costner said.

Rebel sophomore Yusuke Yodono made it a big day for Blount County tennis all ’round with a 6-2, 6-1, straight-sets win over Catholic’s John Batson to secure the boys singles title. Maryville’s Mr. Excitement is looking to reach the state tennis tournament for the second consecutive season, advancing to the 2010 doubles championship match with former Rebel Ryota Yoshida.

The Costner/Robinette match could hardly have asked for better subplots or contrasting styles. Robinette, a tall, rangy all-court player with a first serve that’s going to be some weapon the next three years, took up tennis only a year ago after attending a clinic taught by William Blount coach Marty Durand. Costner, whose timing and balance look almost balletic at times, put on a clinic of winning groundstroke tennis on Tuesday, knowing all the while the chance to do what no William Blount player had ever done was within her reach.

“I was on my home court, and I knew it was a chance to make William Blount High School history,” Costner said. “No boy or girl had ever taken the district title.”

Taken together, it made the match tough to watch, Durand said.

“I’m glad Maddie and Payton are representing us,” he said. “They’re great kids. I didn’t watch them; I just watched the match.”

Costner and Robinette held serve throughout the tie-breaker until the final point. The regular-season meeting between the two had been equally close, Robinette prevailing, 9-7, in a match on the same court.

On many of the early points in Tuesday’s tie-breaker, Costner had looked to be holding something back, playing too cautiously, William Blount assistant coach James Hines said.

“When it’s a close match, I always get real timid and start hitting out,” Costner said.

As his charge walked to the baseline to receive Robinette’s serve at 8-9, Hines leaned in from courtside with a couple of words of advice.

“Everything (all) in,” he said.

Costner uncorked the big forehand return on cue.

Costner’s decision to go for it on set point was a microcosm of the match, Maryville coach Elizabeth Huffaker said.

“What happened out there was experience vs. inexperience,” she said. “When she (Robinette) was broken in the tie-breaker, I said, ‘Forget it,’ but I don’t think she could. That’s experience.”

Robinette took the loss gracefully and vowed to fight another day.

“(Costner’s) a great player,” she said. “I enjoyed playing her and I look forward to seeing her in the region tournament.”

Yodono looked dominant throughout in dispatching Batson. Mixing artistry and shot-making with plenty of power, the Rebel No. 1 player had all the answers for his opponent’s penetrating ground game. Tuesday’s result is encouraging when it comes to his decision to switch from doubles to singles for postseason play this spring, Yodono said.

“I want to go back to state,” he said. “Some national-level players are there. I’m not sure if I can win, but I want to try and do my best.”

Yodono’s almost fun-loving manner on the court belies a driven player with even more serious goals, Huffaker said.

“He’s got confidence. He’s got character. He’s got a great game,” she said.

Yodono, like Costner, also has a district singles title to his credit, a Blount County sweep that hasn’t happened in some time, if ever.

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