Ashley LaFountain was 9-years-old when her father, Rick, took her to her first girls’ state tennis tournament in Columbus.
"I was looking around and I saw all the players and I knew I wanted to play there someday," said Ashley, a freshman at Oak Harbor. "The competition is really good there. At that age, I saw those girls and I thought they were amazing. I knew I wanted to start playing tennis a lot more."
Lafountain's dream became a reality last weekend, when she played in the Division II state tournament at the Elysium Tennis Center in Plain City. The semifinals and finals were played at Hilliard Davidson High School.
"It was a goal, and that's what I was working for this season," said LaFountain, 14, a 5-7 left-hander. "I was kind of expecting it, but it was a relief when I got down there. I had a good season no matter what, but it was my goal to make it to state. It was a bonus if I won a couple matches down there."
LaFountain, who is coached her father, Oak Harbor's boys and girls coach, went 1-1 at the state tournament. She is rated as the No. 1 singles player in Northwest Ohio by the United States Tennis Association in the 14-, 16- and 18-year-old age groups.
LaFountain finished her freshman year with a 33-4 overall record, including 2-1 in doubles.
She said she knew she had a shot to make the state tournament following her performance at the sectional tournament in Port Clinton. She lost just seven games in five matches, then went on to take third at the district tourney.
"I knew I was playing pretty well," LaFountain said. "The matches were pretty one-sided most of the time. I knew it was kind of step one from there. I was hoping to make the final four at the districts and I knew I would have a tough match in the final four."
LaFountain, who is also coached by Pat Ortner at Sandusky Bay Winds, usually plays in three indoor and outdoor tournaments a month from November through August.
Her first-round opponent at the state tournament was junior Courtney Pierron of Wheelersburg.
"Once I got down there, I saw my draw and I thought I had a pretty good shot in my first match," LaFountain said. "After that, I was just kind of hoping for one more (win). I knew all the girls were going to be tough semifinal opponents."
With 10 family members looking on, LaFountain beat Pierron 6-3, 6-1.
"I played OK in that match," she said. "I played my typical game. She was an OK player, but I thought I won with my B game. I knew I would have to step it up in the next match if I wanted to have a shot. It would have been bad to drive all that way and stay overnight and not win a match. It was a relief after I won that first one."
LaFountain lost in the second round to junior Kelsey Matthews of Cincinnati Indian Hill, 6-1, 6-1. Matthews lost to junior Alyssa Ritchie, the eventual state champion, 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals.
Rick LaFountain said his daughter had several opportunities to win the first set against Matthews, but she was unable to close out the key points.
"Ashley was at 'add' in six out of the first seven games," the coach said. "If she would have won those, it could have been a momentum game. You win half of those points and you're tied 3-3 and you have a fighting chance. I don't think she was tired physically, but I saw for the first time her maybe being mentally tired.
"Matthews was very fast and kept everything in play and waited for Ashley to make a mistake. (Matthews) didn't hit many winners, it was just a matter of camping at the baseline and keeping everything coming back. Ashley didn't seem to have the patience in that match."
Ashley admitted she was getting frustrated during her loss to Matthews.
"I was in all the points," she said, "but I couldn't close it out and hit that one extra ball I needed to. She got to a lot of balls. I was expecting her to be a hard hitter, but when we were warming up I knew I would have to take my time and get into each and every point.
"I didn't play my best tennis in that match. It was one of those days, I guess. I was pretty nervous. I'm used to most of that pressure because I play a lot of tournaments. This was different. High school seems a lot different than tournaments. There are more people and you're playing for your school, and I think it's more intense."
Rick LaFountain said his daughter, the Sandusky Bay Conference champion, "pretty much exceeded my expectations" in 2009.
"Maybe her goals will be loftier next year, but I think this season has exceeded both of our expectations," Rick said. "Next year I think her expectations and goals might be a little higher, knowing she can compete with those girls."
Ashley said reaching the state tournament will provide her with motivation to do better next season.
"There is a lot of stuff I know I need to work on," she said. "This offseason I will be able to work on it a lot more. I think I'll come back stronger next year."