Tennis player Abby Gaines had a packed freshman year with St. Joseph’s Academy Angels.
First, she became the school’s No. 1 singles player and helped St. Joseph’s win the Class 2 state championship at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. As the icing on the cake, she finished third in state singles play after nearly defeating the eventual state champion in the semifinals.
Angels coach Doug Smith said he was impressed by Gaines’ performance.
“In light of Abby having lost by a mere three points to the tournament champion, who proceeded to beat pre-tournament favorite Katie Ferguson, I’d say Abby made an impressive debut on the state tournament stage,” Smith said.
Gaines started playing tennis at age 7; however, Gaines never expected to be a top singles player.
“I was just really excited about being on such a good team,” Gaines said. “It’s exciting, but it’s really all about being a part of the team here at St. Joe and hopefully winning a state title, which we were lucky enough to do this year.”
Gaines’ regular season also went well. Her total record in her freshman campaign was 19-7 at No. 1 singles and 20-1 in doubles. She said the highlight of the regular season was easy to choose.
“I think the biggest thing is making new friends,” Gaines said. “It’s all about the team, and being a part of a team championship is something I’ll never forget. Individually, I was proud to be the No. 1 player for a school like St. Joe, but the cool part was playing with some of the best girls in the country.”
Gaines qualified for state when she defeated Lindbergh’s Daniela Rosenberger 7-6, 6-3 in the sectional. She then lost to Ferguson in the district championship match but defeated Lafayette senior Erin Davis, a two-time state medalist, in the district semifinal.
Gaines had big goals for the team and herself at state.
“We had a great season against some of the best teams in the area, so my expectations were to win state as a team, and hopefully win the individual title as well,” Gaines said. “But, of course, you never know how things will turn out until you get on the court.”
When she did get on the court, Gaines won the first-round match over Bentley Walters, of Blue Springs, 6-1, 6-0.
In the quarterfinals, she beat Ashley Firoved, of Troy Buchanan, 6-0, 6-0. Gaines lost in semifinals 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 to Kansas City Liberty’s Colby Kelley, the eventual state champ.
Gaines took the loss in stride.
“[Kelley] played well and deserved it,” Gaines said. “My coaches often say that you learn more from a loss than a win so I’m hoping this makes me a stronger player moving forward.”
Undaunted, Gaines came back and won the third-place match. She ended the season on a high note by scoring an 8-4 win over Claire Thimgan, of Staley.
“It’s really hard to come back from such a tough match to play for third and fourth place, because I really wanted to win state,” Gaines said. “I just had to forget the last match, focus on my opponent, and fortunately it all worked out.”
When asked about a state singles championship in the future, Smith said it would be unwise to count Gaines out.
Gaines, however, said there is work to be done.
“There are so many good players across the state and here in St. Louis that I have to get better if I want to have a chance,” she said.
Gaines will have three more years to accomplish that goal.