The St. Joseph’s Academy tennis Angels are getting closer to returning to the Class 2 state tennis tournament.
The Angels, who finished third in the state last fall, won the recent District 4 meet it hosted by sweeping Lafayette 5-0.
Coach Doug Smith said his squad was ready for postseason play after the regular season.
“This has been a banner season for the Angels,” Smith said. “They kicked it off with a trip to Chicago where the girls played four strong schools and split them 2-2, finishing in fourth place in a field of 16 schools. One week later the Angels won the Heather Bradshaw Invitational hosted by Edwardsville, beating Chicago powerhouse New Trier’s top squad 5-4 for the first time ever.
“Sandwiched around a full slate of a dozen dual meets, St. Joe finished its schedule of road trips to tournaments by winning the Pembroke Invitational in Kansas City. St. Joe wrapped its regular season with a rematch against Class 1 reigning state champion John Burroughs, which the Angels won 5-4 in a dual that ended in near darkness.”
The district would be no pushover for St. Joseph’s. There were new teams in the mix this time.
“Absolutely. The MSHSAA threw a curveball at St. Joe by moving Lafayette into their district this year,” Smith said. “The Angels knew full well that the Lancers would be their biggest challenge to getting back to state so the girls were totally stoked for the ultimate showdown.”
St. Joseph’s opened with a 9-0 win over Marquette and followed it with a win over Lancers for the district crown.
“It was the second victory over a very solid Lafayette squad this season,” Smith said. “The first encounter looked like a runaway by the 8-1 score, but six of the nine matches involved a tiebreaker. That’s how close the matches were. What made the score lopsided was that St. Joe won five of those six tiebreakers. This time, our sweep of the doubles seemed to me to take the wind out of the Lancers’ sails as Angels were leading on all courts when the fourth and fifth matches clinched to halt the contest at 5-0.”
This win gave the Angels their seventh district title in a row.
The Angels will face Kirkwood in the sectional at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Joseph’s.
“Kirkwood has some young developing players, but in truth, it’s been a few years since the Pioneers and the Angels have been comparable,” Smith said.
A win moves St. Joseph’s into the quarterfinal round on Saturday on its home courts. They face the winner of the Parkway South-Cape Girardeau Central match at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“To be brutally honest, St. Joe will probably be regarded as a heavy favorite,” Smith said.
The girls determined to get back to Springfield and better the third place showing last fall, Smith said.
“From Day One of tryouts, the goal has been to not only return to state but to win it this year for our outgoing seniors,” Smith said.
In the individual part of the district play, St. Joseph’s advanced a singles player and two doubles teams.
“In singles play, freshman Abby Gaines knocked off Lafayette senior Erin Davis 6-1, 7-5.
“Because those two are three years apart in age, they had never played before,” Smith said. “It was a match of long rallies with Abby dictating a lot of the points while Erin countered steadily from her baseline.”
Smith liked how Gaines performed in the match.
“Abby controlled the first set and looked ready to close out the match when she built a 5-3 lead in the second only to struggle closing it out as Erin battled back to a 5-5 tie,” Smith said. “At that point Abby recalibrated and finished the match in comparatively short order.”
In the district title match, Gaines fell to Lafayette’s Katie Ferguson 6-3, 6-3. However both girls advanced to the sectional.
“Katie’s defense was stronger than Erin’s, and she also generated more offense, mixing in slices and high loopers to keep Abby from getting into the offensive rhythm that she likes,” Smith said.
Defending state doubles champions sophomore Ellie Choate and senior Lexie Woodman defeated Lafayette’s Maya Martin and Thrisha Kosaraju 6-1, 6-1 in their semifinal.
“It was St. Joe’s No. 2 and No. 3 (players) versus Lafayette’s No. 4 and No. 5, so Choate and Woodman had a decided advantage, Smith said.
The other Angels duo of senior Shannon Sims and sophomore Morgan McKinnis won 6-1, 6-2 over Lafayette’s Meghan Ferguson and Laney Tvrdik.
“This was a little closer matchup, with St. Joe’s No. 4 and No. 5 versus Lafayette’s No. 5 and No. 6, but the Angels played very well in besting still that same pair 8-4, a substantial improvement over their prior matchup which the same two where McKinnis and Sims had eked out a 9-8 victory by virtue of a tiebreaker.”
In the championship match, Choate and Woodman defeated Sims and McKinnis 6-2, 6-2.
“(The)Same thing happened last year but with Nancy Serafin as Sims’ partner, and though those two lost that match they went all the way to the finals at state,” Smith said. “It’s oddly relaxing to watch an all-Angel match because my assistant coach, Laurie Franz, can just sit back and enjoy watching since we won’t take sides. I’ll say this, though, the 6-2, 6-2 score was quite misleading because the quality of play by all four was so good that any casual spectator would have thought the match was much closer.”
Smith feels good about his squad heading into the last matches of the season.
“This is the best Angels squad since the 2012 edition won St. Joe’s last state team championship,” Smith said. “It’s strength is its depth. Also encouraging is the fact that it’s a young squad. We’re losing stalwart starters Lexie Woodman and Shannon Sims to graduation, but the topmost returners are all sophomores or freshmen now. In short, the future looks bright.”