The St. Joseph’s Academy girls tennis team accomplished a solid season despite coach Doug Smith believing this would be a rebuilding year.
“Much like last year, where I felt that finishing second was a wonderful overachievement, this year I felt very much the same about finishing third in a rebuilding year,” Smith said.
The Angels defeated the Springfield Kickapoo Chiefs 5-4 to finish third in the Class 2 State Team Tennis Tournament at the Cooper Complex in Springfield, Missouri.
That victory helped the Angels put the 5-2 loss against Notre Dame de Sion in the semifinals behind them.
“The girls knew they had been underdogs against Sion, but they were eager to redeem themselves against Kickapoo, though we knew absolutely nothing at all about them,” Smith said. “Turned out the Chiefs were better than I had expected and gave us a real scare.”
Smith said he believes his “girls were a little nervous at the beginning, but they got over it,” in the semifinal match.
“Sion was as solid as had been billed, but the match was closer than the final score,” Smith said. “We were leading in both our No. 1 and No. 6 singles matches, which were halted when Sion won its fifth match to clinch the contest.”
St. Joseph’s first match victory came in a thriller at No. 1 doubles when Ellie Burger and Madeline Ohlms rallied from a 6-1 deficit to catch up at 8-8 and force a tiebreaker, which they won.
“It was a gritty effort which left the St. Joe supporters in the crowd cheering,” Smith said.
Matches in the semifinals happen in quick succession, but Smith said his squad was prepared for the back-to-back games.
In the third-place match, Smith said his squad “got off to an ideal start” by sweeping all three doubles matches. That meant that the Angels needed to win only two of the singles to clinch.
“As it turned out, that’s exactly what we did, but not until we had been pushed to the brink by losing four straight singles matches,” Smith said.
After those losses, the last two matches in play were No. 4 Libby Hartnagel and No. 5 Julia Rowan, and each went three sets.
“Julia closed hers out in strong fashion by winning the rubber set 6-0, which evened the overall contest at four matches apiece, leaving Libby as the decider,” Smith said. “Having lost the first set 6-3, she rallied to eke out the second in a tiebreaker to set the stage for the final showdown.”
Smith said Hartnagel raced through the final set 6-1, and the Angels’ celebration after winning was one of the loudest Smith said he can recall.
“The girls’ reaction was one of absolute jubilation,” Smith said. “They all screamed and squealed in such delight that I ultimately had to ask them to lower their decibel level because they were disturbing other courts that were still in progress.”
Taking a team in the season that lost just about everyone from last year’s state runner-up squad to graduation left Smith pleased. Only one state starter had returned this season.
“My assistant coach, Laurie Franz, and I were every bit as proud of this group for having taken third place as we have been in some other years when we’ve won it all,” Smith said. “With only last year’s No. 6 starter back, the team of newbies was a season-long work-in-progress. They got beat up early, but learned and grew from their losses – and through it all they bonded from top to bottom tighter than any of the 17 teams I had before this one.”