The MICDS Rams have their eyes on the prize in the at the Class 1 state tennis tournament.
The Rams have finished third and second in the last two years at the state meet played at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
MICDS plays in the 43rd annual state team tournament Thursday (Oct. 12). Admission is $8 per day.
The Rams (11-3) meet Pembroke Hill (14-2) at 9 a.m. in a semifinal. In the other semifinal, John Burroughs meets Springfield Catholic. The two winners will play for the state title at 1 p.m. with the third-place match being held at the same time.
Coach Patrick Huewe is pleased his squad is going back to state again.
“It feels great to be going back to state again and maybe even a little sweeter this time around because it was such a difficult road to get there,” Huewe said.
It was the main objective for the program since the season began.
“I went about our normal goal setting process with the team captains Brooke Wright and Lindsay Parks in the summer,” Huewe said. “With so many new players, we set goals that had more to do with building a strong team dynamic and positive environment for the season, but we also recognized that a byproduct of hard work and commitment to improving would give us some opportunities.
“The theme from the start was trust and once the players trusted in the process and learned how to trust each other I knew we would have a good shot at making it back to state.”
Caleigh McClain, Parks, and Wright competed in postseason the last two years for the Rams. Those three veterans helped the newer girls adapt to varsity tennis.
Added together, the team jelled nicely.
“This team has a lot of character and they have a lot of fun together on and off the court,” Huewe said. “This group of players loves tennis but, with the exception of Caleigh, they are not competing year-round in USTA events so they have had to work hard to get better in high pressure situations during the season. They have come so far this season and deserve to have this experience.”
The Rams advanced to state by winning their sectional and quarterfinal matches last Saturday at Hannibal.
In the sectional, MICDS defeated St. Dominic 5-0. It was closer than the final score would indicate, Huewe said.
“The match against St. Dominic was extremely competitive and the score did not necessarily reflect the level of competition,” Huewe said. “We had a solid practice on Friday and worked on some specific things to help the girls approach this match with the right mental attitude. It was incredibly windy on Saturday so a lot of the quick footwork and consistency the girls displayed was the result good preparation on their part, which ultimately led to a solid result that ended far sooner than the other match.”
Incarnate Word defeated Palmyra in the second so MICDS meet the Red Knights in the quarterfinal match.
“We knew IWA was a strong team based on some of their results this season so we knew we were in for a tough match. We also knew their No. 1 doubles pair was a great team because we had lost to them in the sectional doubles individuals round,” Huewe said. “It ended up being one of the most dramatic finishes I’ve been part of as a coach.”
Indeed. MICDS had to win four of five singles matches to win. The Rams got them and got by the Red Knights 5-3 to advance to state.
Weather forced a change and made it a long day for the Rams.
“We had to start the day versus St. Dominic after 1:30 p.m. because of the early rain and by the time we started versus IWA, who had a battle with Palmyra, it was already around 4:30,” Huewe said. “The wind was still very strong and the conditions were not ideal. We went down 1-2 after doubles. The IWA team was so tough at No. 1 and defeated Caleigh McClain and Lindsay Parks. We lost a tight match at No. 3 9-7 with Alexandra Harris and Sydney Cheaney competing for us. Brooke Wright and Abby Lee played a phenomenal match at No. 2 doubles and won 8-4 to give us one of two points to open the match.
The Rams had an injury during singles play.
“Brooke Wright got off to the fastest start on the team and went up 4-1 in the first set at No. 3 singles, then the unthinkable happened and she went down with an ankle injury,” Huewe said. “All of a sudden we were down 1-3 in the match with very tight matches on every court and needing to win four out of five of them.”
At that point, Huewe said the teams ran out of light. So they traveled from Hannibal to Palmyra High School, where the school has four lighted courts.
“Lindsay Parks played with a mission to get back to state and won convincingly at No. 2 singles,” Huewe said. “Every other match was a battle but a big surprise was Sydney Cheaney stepping up to play the best match of the year for her and she won in two tough sets at No. 5 singles. Sydney’s match brought us even at 3-3.”
The battle of the No. 1 players was a good one.
“Maria Brandt gave Caleigh a tough match at No. 1 but ultimately Caleigh fought off a comeback and won to give the Rams a 4-3 lead with two matches to play,” Huewe said. “At No. 4, Meredith Goldberg lost the first set 6-7 but came back to take the second set 6-4. Abby Lee was battling at No. 6 and had fallen behind 1-4 in a third set of her own. Meredith had played tough and mentally kept it together to eventually win the match 6-4 in the third set to give us the deciding victory.”
That’s when the Rams celebrated. They were so happy to go back to Springfield.
“Everyone went nuts after the match finished. It was past 9 p.m. when it was all said and done,” Huewe said. “We celebrated by carrying Brooke onto the court for the team picture and just couldn’t believe what an amazing finish and comeback we just completed.
“It was a great feeling to win that way and it was the longest sectional match I’d ever experienced as a coach. My hats off to IWA for an amazing season and match. They came very close to taking it.”
Now, comes the match at state against the Pembroke Hill Raiders. Huewe said the Rams are facing an unknown in the Raiders.
“We haven’t seen this particular team or know a lot about their players, but they are strong based on their record and schedule,” Huewe said. “We’ll talk more about their players this week and focus mainly on our own strengths and preparation.”
Can these Rams win state? Huewe said it’s best not to count them out of anything. He does think John Burroughs (16-1) will be favored.
“After what they did on Saturday I’m just extremely proud of the way they rallied after Brooke went down and cheered, yelled, and basically willed each other to a victory,” Huewe said. “I think Burroughs is the clear favorite to win state again but I can tell you this much, these Rams have the heart of a champion team and will work these next few days to give themselves the best chance possible.
“We may be without a power player in Brook Wright but we’ll know more after she is evaluated, which could make it a tough challenge for us without one of our strongest singles and doubles players.”
After the team tourney, the individual singles and doubles state meet will be held Friday and Saturday.
McClain has qualified to compete again this year in singles after also earning a state berth as a sophomore.
She finished second in the Class 1 District 6 singles championship match, losing 6-2 6-3 to Elizabeth Barlow, of Villa Duchesne. But she defeated Madison Gudmestad, of Clayton, 6-0, 6-0 in sectional to reach state.
“Caleigh is starting to play some of her best tennis,” Huewe said. “In order to get her game where she needs it she had to experience some poor tennis along the way, which included the district match versus Barlow. She has changed a couple things in her mental game and her positioning on the court. It has made a huge difference, which we saw play out versus two strong players in the sectional round on Saturday.”
The state bracket has not be announced.
Huewe is optimistic.
“I think she will go far this year if she keeps working on improving her mental game and playing to her strengths,” Huewe said.