Two decades ago James and Emily Cole met while playing tennis. On Saturday, the proud parents felt a similar spark as they watched their daughter, Taylor Cole, win a Section VI title.
The East Aurora senior beat Williamsville East seventh-grader Brianna Gibbs, 6-4, 6-4, in the championship match at the Village Glen. Cole, last year's runner-up, along with Gibbs and third-place finisher Rachel Mole of Frewsburg advance to the state tournament Nov. 5-7 at the Eastside Racquet Club in Manlius.
"My goal since last year was to win sectionals," Cole said after posing for a picture with family, friends and coaches. "It feels great to be able to accomplish a goal. I'm super excited to go back to states."
It's a similar feeling Cole had when she picked up the sport just over four years ago. After watching her parents and younger brother, Zach, play both recreationally and competitively, Cole got the itch.
"I always went to my brother's tournaments to watch and after a while I decided I wanted to try (tennis) -- play in the tournaments and just be good at something," she said, while noting that she's tried several sports, including basketball, softball and track and field.
Turns out Cole made a great decision. After two years at Nichols, she transferred to East Aurora and quickly made a splash on the local tennis scene, dropping only a pair of matches to 2010 Section VI champion Disha Yellayi prior to the state tournament.
This fall, with Yellayi transferring from Williamsville East to Nichols, the sectional field was wide open. So, Cole went to work, improving both her serve and net game throughout the offseason. The left-hander has also shown an increased level of maturity out on the court this season, according to Blue Devils coach Gary Schutrum.
"She's able to manufacture points and stay in the point much longer while not getting frustrated," he said.
Those tactics were critical as Cole fended off Gibbs in a rematch of the ECIC final, which Cole won, 6-0, 6-2.
"(Gibbs) played a lot better," said Cole, who had to wait two hours between her semifinal and championship matches. "She changed her strategy completely by keeping more balls in play and made it a really good match. I think she was a little intimidated last time, but she was tough this time around. I think I played pretty solid, though."
Cole hopes to continue her strong play at states with a goal of improving on her 1-2 mark at the event a year ago. Beyond next weekend, Cole plans to take part in early enrollment at Colgate with an eye on playing tennis. She has also received interest from Bucknell, St. Bonaventure and St. Lawrence.
"I really believe she can take it to another level," Schutrum said. "She still has plenty of room to grow and develop and I know she wants to continue to get better at the game."
Meanwhile in doubles play, Alex Rowen and Emma Manuel of Williamsville East knocked off the top-ranked Orchard Park sister duo of Karli and Hayley Hollins, 6-1, 6-1, for the title. Joining those two teams at the state tournament is the East Aurora tandem of Alana Danieu and Grace Dunbar, which finished third after a 6-1, 6-2 win over Holly Jelonek and Sarina Shah of Clarence.