MICDS coach Patrick Huewe liked what he saw from his Rams this fall.
The girls tennis team finished third in the Class 1 state team tournament at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. MICDS lost to eventual state champion Pembroke Hill Raiders 5-2 in the semifinals.
However, the Rams came back to defeat Springfield Catholic 5-2 to capture third place.
MICDS made its 11th overall trip since 2000 to the Final Four and third in a row. The Rams have finished third in each of the last two years after finishing second.
“This season was amazing for so many reasons,” Huewe said. “They came together as a team on and off the court all season to give an individual sport a complete team dynamic, which is a big part of our philosophy. This is a very sweet, respectful, and hard working group that kept a positive attitude during some tough moments.
“They pushed themselves to get better and ultimately put themselves in the best position possible to compete for the state title.”
An injury to Brooke Wright in the quarterfinal victory over Incarnate Word Academy caused adjustments to be made at state. Wright sprained her ankle with a 4-1 lead in the first set in the No. 3 singles match.
Getting into Final Four is an accomplishment.
“We competed with heart and determination to make it to state, especially after losing Brooke Wright to an injury versus Incarnate Word,” Huewe said. “We knew there was another gear we had to get to if we were ever going to push the three most successful teams in the state because every player had to move up a spot from No. 7 to No. 3? and we had to shift our doubles lineup.”
The Raiders, who stopped John Burroughs 5-4 to win the state title, held off the determined Rams in the semifinal.
MICDS acquitted itself well against Pembroke Hill, Huewe said.
“The girls played Pembroke Hill much closer than anyone expected given the change in our lineup,” Huewe said. “We were up in sets on No. 6 (Julia Amato) and No. 4? (Sydney Cheaney), but we were eventually overpowered by a much more experienced group of USTA (United States Tennis Association) Level players.”
The victories came in doubles and singles. The No. 1 doubles team of Caleigh McClain and senior Lindsay Parks won at 8-7. Parks won her No. 2 singles match 6-3, 6-2.
“Lindsay saved her best tennis of the season for this match because she had a positive attitude from the start despite being a heavy underdog,” Huewe said. “She has a will to fight and overcome the odds in the biggest situations, which is what she did during this match. Her result brought us even at 2-2 before Pembroke Hill began to get up in the other matches.”
After a short break, the Rams hit the courts for the third-place match against Springfield Catholic. Huewe believed they were ready to play.
“We came together for a good team huddle before the match so I could remind them how proud they should be to have reached that stage,” Huewe said. “Even though we lost to Pembroke Hill we knew that leaving the tournament with a win would feel pretty close to winning a championship given the road we had to take to get there.
“Springfield Catholic is a good team with very similar players and talent as us, plus they were playing in front of a partisan crowd. ?It was a match full of key moments.”
The Rams have more key moments and went on to win 5-2.
Huewe was very proud of what MICDS did in this match.
“There were some real gutsy performances in multiple matches,” Huewe said.
“First, our No. 1 and No. 3 doubles teams played some of their best tennis to give us momentum heading into singles 2-1.”
The No. 3 doubles team was Abby Lee and Alexandra Harris. Both are juniors. Lee is the No. 5 singles player and Harris is No. 6.
“They had played a few matches at the beginning of the season and pulled off a tense 9-7 result,” Huewe said. “In those matches, you never know what type of opponent you’ll have. Consistency plus mental toughness usually wins out.
“That was the case with Abby and Julia, not to mention that this was Julia’s first time playing No. 6 in a big match all season and had to fight some serious nerves to pull off what I consider an upset.”
Playing two pressure-packed matches makes for a long day of tennis.
Huewe noted Parks, his senior captain, had a day at state to remember as her Rams career wound down.
“Lindsay Parks has to ?take the game ball for the day simply because she played her best tennis of the season when it mattered the most,” Huewe said. “Her record that day was 4-0 against the best competition in the state, especially versus No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles of eventual state champ Pembroke Hill.”
The girls have another nice plaque for the school’s trophy case. That’s good, Huewe said.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to have a tangible representation of all the hard work the girls invested throughout the season,” Huewe said. “They all got to sign their names on the back of the trophy to put their stamp on the season.”
It’s a season Huewe said he won’t soon forget.
He is proud for what the Rams accomplished.
“Looking back over the last 18 years of coaching at MICDS, I can remember maybe one or two teams that were up against a wall of adversity like this group and managed to come through it the way this team did,” Huewe said. “In that sense it’s a very meaningful season for me personally and especially will help those players who return next season because of all the experience they took from it.
“I couldn’t have done it without my assistant coach Brad Heinemann. Having Brad as a coach is the equivalent of having two head coaches. He brings his own style of coaching that the girls respond to really well and deserves a lot of credit for the results we’ve achieved this year. ”
Four Rams are lost to gradation.
However, the cupboard is not bare for next season.
“The transition to next year is most important in the leadership of the team,” Huewe said. “I’m looking to No. 1 player Caleigh McClain along with seniors Sydney Cheaney, Abby Lee, and ?Julia Amato to give us positive momentum as we head into next season.”