GODFREY — For the second straight season the Marquette Catholic Explorers are the champions of the Alton Invitational.
A rugged day of tennis Saturday saw the Explorers nab titles at No. 3 and No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles. It was enough to outlast the host Alton Redbirds and win the title. For the second consecutive season the Redbirds brought home second place in their tournament.
The team standings behind Marquette and Alton rounded out with: Triad, Jersey, Highland, Collinsville, Granite City and Civic Memorial.
Marquette head coach Jim Claywell was glad to grab tournament gold after a long week of tennis and a tournament that showcases team depth.
“In a tournament like this all teams go 10 deep, so we knew the top four singles it was realistic that we were going to have a rematch of the dual with Alton,” Claywell said. “Then the question was who was going to win the majority of those matches, but more important than that the depth of the team at 1,2 and 3 doubles. That was the satisfying thing, all the girls bought into what we were doing in the practices leading up and quite honestly a long week.”
The Explorers defeated the Redbirds 8-1 in a dual on Tuesday that lasted five hours and then traveled to Quincy Notre Dame on Wednesday, losing 5-4 in a tough dual.
While Claywell was stoked to cap a long week with the tourney title, Alton head coach Robert Logan was equally happy with the performance of his girls on Saturday.
Shannon Willis and Abby Fischer redeemed themselves from tough losses at No. 1 and No. 2 singles on Tuesday against Marquette. Willis beat Shelby Jones of the Explorers 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 and Fischer won over Elena Gable 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.
“Shannon just pulled out a fantastic match and I cannot be more proud of her,” Logan said. “Getting beat a week ago by Jones 6-1, 6-1 and coming back and winning in three sets and being down 5-2 in the first set and coming back 7-5. It just shows all the hard work in the winter time and summer time paid off and not that Jones doesn't put the work in. It was just great seeing those two go at it.”
Willis said getting to play Jones twice in a week helped with her strategy on Saturday and being aggressive in her offensive game gave her confidence.
“It definitely helps playing against her and learning her game,” Willis said. “Today I was much more calm and when I missed a shot I didn't get down on myself. I was also more aggressive and went up to the net a lot more, so that helps a lot with hitting approach shots. Having a strong mental game and not getting down on myself was a big part of it, too.”
Willis is adapting to being the No. 1 player for the Birds this year, too. She said that has been an adjustment after playing No. 2 behind now graduated Janelle Wilson who was an elite player for AHS.
“It's been different and I was nervous at the beginning of the year,” Willis said. “Abby and I were playing a lot of challenge matches to see who would play No. 1 and No. 2 and I definitely had big shoes to fill when Janelle left. I'm still not near as good as her, but last year I guided the ball and this year I've learned to trust myself and go for the bigger shots and play my game.”
While it was Willis and Fischer winning at No. 1 and No. 2, the Explorers bested the Birds at Nos. 3 and 4 in singles.
Laura Moore of Marquette topped Alton's Mary McDaniel 6-1, 6-0 and Adri Ventigmilia won 6-3, 6-0 over Hannah Macias of the Redbirds.
The Explorers' championship efforts were assisted by winning the No. 3 doubles flight with the tandem of Maddie Joehl and Katie Ventigmilia prevailing against Jersey 6-1, 6-0. The duo of Allison Hoefert and Allison Puterbaugh lost in the finals at No. 2 doubles to Triad 6-2, 6-3 also.
Marquette was also third at No. 1 doubles. Jersey won the championship there.
Alton was fifth at No. 1 doubles and fourth at No. 2 doubles.
The Alton Invitational makes for a good measuring stick for the upcoming Alton Sectional. The Redbirds, Explorers, CM, Jersey and Highland from Saturday's tournament will all meet in the postseason.
First-year coach of the Eagles, Matt Carmody, believes that's why it was good for his young team. CM got a sixth place finish from Katie O'Brien and No. 1 singles and a fourth place from the No. 3 doubles team of Hope Nelson and Brianna Zipprich.
“It's a good day for the girls and a great tournament as for getting the girls experience,” Carmody said. “My team needs more and more repetition and a day full of tennis is always a good thing.”
Granite City head coach Linda Ames watched her Warriors get fourth and No. 1 singles with Bailee Warsing, sixth at No. 3 singles with Kourtney Singleton and fifth at No. 2 doubles from the duo of Sarah Schnefke and Kayla Bridick. The Warriors, along with Triad, will head to the Belleville West Sectional when postseason hits, but Ames thinks playing in the Alton Invite is still a big help.
“Were at Belleville West this year, but it's still good competition for us,” said Ames. “We tend to be the team that moves back and forth in the sectional. I'd much rather be in this sectional. The West Sectional with East, West, O'Fallon and Althoff is unbelievably great.
“I was really happy the way the girls played today. I was a little concerned coming in because we didn't have a great practice yesterday, so I was happy the way they hit the ball.”