DOVER — It took Olivia Anyanwu until her senior season until she finally lost her first match.
But the Dover High tennis standout tried to just take it in stride.
The player she lost to — Smyrna freshman Ava Emrich — is one of the best players in the state.
“It was definitely weird,” Anyanwu said with a smile. “But I definitely respect her. She’s an amazing player. ... I walked off the court laughing with one my teammates.
“You take it with a grain of salt. That’s what you have to do.”
The fact that Anyanwu isn’t perfect doesn’t take away anything from her impressive career.
She’s now lost just twice after falling to Emrich again on Monday in the first singles semifinals of the Henlopen Conference Tournament. But she’s also won a pair of DIAA state titles — and might well have won a third if the 2020 season wasn’t wiped out by the COVID pandemic.
If that makes her something of an underdog going into the DIAA state tournament, Anyanwu is OK with that. The tourney gets started with two rounds at various sites in New Castle and Kent County on Saturday.
This is Anyanwu’s first season playing first singles. She was the state’s top seed in both her freshman (third singles) and junior (second singles) seasons.
“I’ve thought about it,” said Anyanwu. “It kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off. ... I’m not No. 1. I’m coming for them more or less. That’s my mindset.”
Dover coach Kevin Papen said it’s been fun to watch Anyanwu, who also helped the Senators win the program’s first team state championship last spring.
He said she’s never been considered a hard hitter. But she makes up for it with her focus and tenacity.
“She’s really mentally tough,” said Papen. “She never misses. So when she does miss, everyone’s like, ‘Whoa, she missed the ball.’
“She’s very gritty. She’s had a lot more quicker matches this year because she’s hitting harder. But sometimes she’d win ‘0’ and ‘0’ and she’d have the longest match.”
This hasn’t been an easy season for Anyanwu. She had to withdraw from her Henlopen third-place match with Cape Henlopen’s Samantha Connors because of a minor injury.
But Anyanwu has always loved a good challenge. She’s headed for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall where she’s been accepted to the prestigious Wharton School of Business.
Also a standout volleyball player for the Senators, Anyanwu knows she’s going to have to find ways to stay competitive in sports.
“Competing is what I do,” she said. “I’ve done it my entire life. So I definitely have to find a way to continue that or else I’ll probably go crazy.
“I’m definitely going to keep competing. I just love it.”
Before she finishes her high school career, though, Anyanwu wants to see if she can add some more victories to her resume.
Along with Smyrna’s Emrich, who is unbeaten, Caesar Rodney’s Erin Gross also figures to be a contender at first singles in the state tourney. She finished second in the Henlopen Tournament.
“I am very proud of what I’ve done,” Anyanwu said about her career. “But I just feel like there’s more to do. I know this year is my toughest but I’m embracing it.
“I’m just excited for what’s coming.”