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St. Joseph’s tennis team heads to Kansas City for tournament at Pembroke Hill

If the St. Joseph’s Academy tennis team needs a motto perhaps they could use this one: Head ’em up, move them out.

“It seems like a tournament and often a road trip every weekend for St. Joe,” Angels coach Doug Smith said.

The St. Joseph’s Academy Angels won the Heather Bradshaw Tournament in Edwardsville. The girls from left to right: Morgan McKinnis, Megan Nguyen, Ellie Choate, Lexie Woodman, Shannon Sims, Abby Gaines, and coach Doug Smith.

The Angels travel to Kansas City on Friday to play a dual against the Pembroke Hill School Raiders at the Owen Tennis Complex. St. Joseph’s will follow that match by playing in a one-day tournament there on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.

That is all good for his squad, Smith said.

“This is the kind of schedule we parlay every year with the aim of seeking out the best competition possible,” Smith said.

The Angels began the season playing in a tournament in Illinois. His team was ready to begin playing, Smith said.

“After 14 MSHSAA-mandated practices plus some rain days as well, the girls were champing at the bit to see real action in Chicago,” Smith said.

The Angels played in the New Trier Tournament. St. Joseph’s beat Loyola 5-0 and Libertyville 4-1 on the first day. On the second day, the Angles lost to Lake Forest 4-1 and 3-2 to Stevenson.

The squad finished fourth out of 16 Chicago-area teams in the tourney.

“For a season opener, I felt the girls played very well in the thick of it versus teams from the Windy City,” SMith said.

The Angels came home and won two matches against Edwardsville and Cor Jesu.

“We always have a good match with Edwardsville, and playing it at St. Joe set the stage for our trip across the Big Muddy last weekend,” Smith said.

The Angels played in the annual Heather Bradshaw Tournament in Edwardsville. St. Joseph’s played in the eight-team Champs Level 1 bracket of the two-day tournament?

St. Joseph’s defeated O’Fallon (Ill.) Township High to reach the semifinals. There, the Angels dominated in scoring a 9-0 victory over New Trier No. 2.

“(It was the) Same team we beat in last year’s Heather Bradshaw semi, though some different players, of course,” Smith said. “But it was their second six, so it’s a bit like our first-string versus their second-string squad. But New Trier’s second-string is still better than a lot of others’ first-strings.’

That set up a rematch from last year against New Trier 1. This time, the Angels nipped New Trier 1 by a 5-4 margin.

It was a milestone victory for St. Joseph’s against one of Illinois’ top programs. New Trier is a girls tennis powerhouse in Illinois. The program features more than 100 girls. The program has seven state championships.

“So it was a nail-biter,” Smith said.”That said, it’s the first time an Angel squad has beaten New Trier’s top squad, a perennial Illinois powerhouse, in about a decade.

Smith gave his squad the confidence it needed before the championship match. He believed in his girls.

“I told them that I honestly felt that, all history aside, this year it was a winnable match for St. Joe because of our depth,” Smith said.

St. Joseph’s won at No. 2 doubles with the duo of Abby Gaines and Shannon Sims. New Trier won the other two doubles matches.

So, it came down to singles play for the Angels. They had won big to win the tournament.

St. Joseph’s made it happen. The Angles recorded wins in positions 2-3-4-5. The singles matches were won by Ellie Choate, Lexie Woodman, Morgan McKinnis, and Sims.

“All in all, the Angels played extremely well, and to beat New Trier, they needed to,” Smith said. “(They) Showed confidence, determination, and exceptional effort.”

It has been a long while since St. Joseph’s won the Bradshaw Tournament.

Despite that, there was no big celebration after the victory, Smith said.

“The girls were surprisingly rather subdued upon learning that the victory had been clinched, but I think it was because front and center Abby Gaines was still playing the No. 1 singles match and it was a real barn-burner,” Smith said. “So when Ellie Choate and then Lexie Woodman reported their wins the drama of Abby’s exciting match was still at peak height and commanding her teammates’ attention.”

Gaines, a freshman, lost to senior Ali Benedetto, who will play at Brown, 3-6, 6-2, 10-5 in that No. 1 singles match.

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