PORTAGE | Caitlin Kennedy dropped the opening game of her No. 1 singles set Saturday, but it was hardly an adverse situation for the Valparaiso junior.
She missed a week of the season with a sinus infection and had to sit out another couple of days with a sore back. She overcame those ailments and this early deficit to lead the Vikings to the Portage Sectional title.
Kennedy took 12 of the next 14 games from Mandy Haupt to win 6-2, 6-1, as Valpo swept the host Indians 5-0 for the program's 21st overall title.
The Vikings (17-1) face South Bend St. Joseph's at 4:30 in Tuesday's semifinals of the LaPorte Regional. Valpo won the earlier meeting, 4-1.
Kennedy said she was nervous at the beginning of her match with Portage's Haupt, but felt confident she could turn things around.
"I always know I need to loosen up, and I've always been able to come back to that," she said. "A little ways through the first set I started to play better.
"I started off with my forehand not being as loose at it needed to be. I started following through and making my shots."
Valparaiso dropped just five games in its combined opening set, which was crucial to coach Tim Shideler's plan.
"We needed to have a good start," he said. "Portage had improved this season, so we wanted to start to put disbelief in their heads."
Kelly Kennedy, Caitlin's twin sister, won 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2 singles, while Rachel Willing won 6-0, 6-4 at No. 3.
Brooke Sever and Madisen Kammerer won 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1 doubles, while Katelyn Spencer, the lone senior in the lineup, and Rachel Crookston won 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2.
Valpo has used 10 players this season, including three people at No. 1 singles, and Shideler believes depth is starting to strengthen the team.
"The girls have been able to get the job done," he said. "They've been able to push each other.
"We played aggressive, and we're getting better each match."