Chuck Berry had a hit song with “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the St. Joseph’s Angels just might adopt it as their new theme song.
The Angels captured their first Class 2 girls team tennis state championship since 2012. St. Joseph’s blew away both opponents in the Final Four at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
In the semifinals, St. Joseph’s defeated Parkway Central 5-0. Not to be outdone, the Angels repeated that showing with a 5-0 win over St. Teresa’s Academy in the championship match. In fact, St. Joseph’s won all of its six postseason matches by identical 5-0 scores.
The result in Springfield meant the Angles earned the 16th state championship in school history. It is the most titles in state history.
St. Joseph’s coach Doug Smith has led the Angels to 10 of those titles. He knew this team was capable of winning the championship.
“In each of the last six years St. Joe has had good teams which enjoyed strong seasons that produced multiple trips to the Final Four and also in which some Angels have had the satisfaction of winning individual titles,” Smith said. “But the Holy Grail of state championships is the team title, which had eluded St. Joe since 2012.
“Meanwhile, Rock Bridge had been steadily gaining on our MSHSAA-leading total of 15 team state titles, so this one was especially sweet. It’s our sweet 16th.”
The state tournament matches were played indoors because of wet weather in Springfield. With the rain, all play took place on the Cooper Tennis Complex’s 12 indoor courts.
When the Angels won, Smith said they all reacted.
“From the balcony overlooking the courts, the six other team members had been rooting their teammates on, and they raced down to the courts for a full embrace of a group hug with cheers and tears of joy,” Smith said.
His team was ready the team state tournament.
“The girls had been waiting eagerly for team state and were champing at the bit to play, come rain or shine,” Smith said.
Considering how the Angels rolled through the regular season and the district, sectional and quarterfinals, there was a some concern, Smith noted, about overconfidence.
“I confess I pondered whether to caution the girls against getting overconfident, but I bit my tongue and just let them roll because they were all so stoked and I didn’t want to daunt their eagerness,” Smith said.
St. Joseph’s dispatched Parkway Central easily.
“With St. Joe’s 5-0 district conquest of Lafayette behind them, the girls weren’t skittish about tackling the Colts, whom the Lancers had beaten 9-0 during the regular season,” Smith said.
All three doubles teams won by scores of 8-2, 8-0, and 8-2. St. Joseph’s clinched the victory with singles wins by senior Lexie Woodman at No.3 and at No. 4 by sophomore Morgan McKinnis. Woodman won 6-0, 6-0 and McKinnis won 6-1, 6-1.
“I didn’t time the match, but it was over in relatively short order,” Smith said.
That set up the title match with St. Teresa’s Academy, which beat five-time defending champion Rock Bridge 5-4 in the quarterfinals, and Springfield Central in the semifinal.
“With St. Teresa’s Academy being on the western edge of the state, we hadn’t seen much of them since we last played (and beat) them head-on five or six years ago at the Great Eight tournament in Columbia,” Smith said. “We did encounter a smattering of their players this season, however, in the Pembroke Invitational in Kansas City, but their No. 1 and No. 3 girls were missing that day so we really didn’t know what kind of strength they had at the top of their lineup.
“I mainly stressed that, though the Stars had bumped a fading champion in Rock Bridge, a win is still a win so our girls should not take St. Teresa’s lightly. And they complied.”
Smith said he was not surprised the Stars knocked off Rock Bridge.
“Despite the Bruins’ recent reign of state championships, the news didn’t exactly hit us as a bombshell because we knew this year’s edition lacked the depth which has long been a hallmark of Rock Bridge teams,” Smith said. “Nevertheless, when the defending champion gets knocked out, it’s still newsworthy.
“On one hand, I was happy to see someone take Rock Bridge out, but on the other hand it would have been fun if the Angels had done it.”
Like the match against Parkway Central, the Angels swept the doubles play again.
“There’s nothing that boosts a team’s energy and confidence better than sweeping all three doubles, which is what these Angels did in every postseason contest,” Smith said. “After that the team needs only to win two out of six singles matches to clinch victory.”
Woodman and freshman Abby Gaines each won their singles matches 6-0, 6-0 to finish it off. Smith liked what saw from those two.
“It was a joy to behold both the old and the new — Lexie Woodman, a senior stalwart, and Abby Gaines, a freshman starlet — literally overwhelm two quality St. Teresa’s players for the clinching matches,” Smith said.”
Overall, it was a dominant showing by the Angels.
“Dominant is a perfect word for the performance of these Angels throughout the entire season, underscored by the fact that in each of the six rounds that constituted the postseason, St. Joe did not lose even one court, winning every contest 5-0,” Smith said.
This year’s squad will lose two starters, captains Woodman and Shannon Sims, and one reserve, Kathryn Conaty, to graduation.
However, no one should count of the Angels in the down the road
“The future looks bright for this team,” Smith said. “Of this year’s top eight players, six were either sophomores or freshmen, and another sophomore who will fill in nicely next year is Bella Hong, who as a recent transfer was ineligible to play this year.”
Depth was the hallmark of this year’s team, Smith said.
“As strong as this Angel squad was at the top, a less noted aspect of this lineup was its overall depth,” Smith said. “As confident as I was with our No. 1 through 3 players, I was equally confident with our No. 4 through 6 girls. And as a measure of our total depth even beyond that, we entered our No. 7 through 12 girls in a bracket of Edwardsville’s Heather Bradshaw Tournament comprised of other teams’ No. 1 through 6 players, and our ‘second six’ finished second among a field of eight area and Illinois schools.”