GODFREY — The Roxana Shells have put in a lot of work on the tennis courts. On Monday it showed, as the Shells defeated rival Marquette Catholic at the Andy Simpson Tennis Complex at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
Roxana won four of six singles bouts and picked up a No. 1 doubles win from Sara Kreutztrager and Haley Milazzo to pull out a 5-4 team victory.
“It's a really good win for us,” Shells' head coach Mike Kathriner said. “Marquette has been beating us up for years and for good reason, it's a good team. Jim (Claywell) does a great job with this team and it's nice to finally get a win. It was close, it couldn't get much closer than today.”
The Explorers found themselves down 4-2 after the singles round, needing a sweep in doubles to win the dual. They logged wins at No. 2 and No. 3, leaving Kreutztrager and Milazzo with the pressure of earning a Roxana victory at No. 1 doubles to pull out the team victory.
Playing a 10-point pro set, the Shells' duo did just that, staving off a charge from Marquette's No. 1 tandem of Shelby Jones and Anne Tassinari and winning 10-4.
Roxana improved to 4-0 on the young season with the win, while the Explorers fell to 0-1.
“It feels amazing,” Kreutztrager said. “Kathriner talked about how this is only the second time he's ever won against Marquette, so coming into this we had high expectations, but we knew it was going to be tough.”
Kreutztrager and Milazzo knew they were the deciding match in the dual and while it was added pressure they buckled down and did what they had to do to win.
“We just came into it wanting to give 110 percent,” Kreutztrager said.
Marquette coach Jim Claywell credited the Shells for the work they've put in during the offseason as shining through on Monday. He sees the improvement in them and knew they wouldn't be slouches.
“It showed up,” Claywell said. “We knew they improved and Sydney Owsley and Shelby Jones when they play it's just a matter of who's going to play their best because it's always tight. Shelby has always come out on the winning end except for tonight, so anything happens.
“The fact that they have put a lot of work in shows. Even though this was our first match, many of our girls haven't put the same work in and it makes a difference, especially in close matches.”
The 2015 AdVantage News Co-Players of the Year, Sydney Owsley and Jones squared off at No. 1 singles with Owsley coming out on top. After Jones won the opening set 6-2, Owsley clawed back winning the second set 6-3 and the third set 7-6 (10-6).
Owsley, Kreutztrager, Milazzo and freshmen sisters Abbey and Lauren Gegen all worked hard in the summer, participating in USTA events around the area.
“I think that has helped a lot, going against tougher players,” Milazzo said. “These (Marquette) girls out here are really tough and I'm amazed at how well we did and I'm just ecstatic.”
Kathriner definitely sees the improvement in his squad.
“I guess I didn't have any expectations coming into today, but to try and play well,” he said. “As singles were going I was like, 'We're playing really well.' I honestly didn't think we'd take four of the six singles. Anytime you can get a win at any of them you'll take them, but the team just played well today. Everyone played well, there wasn't a weak link in the chain. I'll hand it to Marquette, they pushed us and most tennis players will tell you that you play up or you can play down. I think a team like Marquette forces you to move and we like that and it was nice to play someone that hits the ball. It worked out well.”
The rest of the singles rounded out with: Milazzo beating Tassinari 6-4, 6-1 at No. 2, Kreutztrager topping Abbi Simonds 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-6) at No. 3, Marquette's Adri Ventigmilia besting Jessica Levan 6-0. 6-2 at No. 4, Roxana's Abby Gegen outlasting Maria Wendle 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 (14-12) at No. 5 and Allison Peuterbaugh of the Explorers winning 6-3, 6-1 over Lauren Gegen at No. 6.
Marquette earned wins at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles as Simonds and Ventigmilia beat Owsley and Levan 10-6 and Wendle and Peuterbaugh defeated the Gegen sisters 10-8.
Spirits are high on the small school front with the IHSA expanding tennis to two classes this season. Marquette and Roxana will be cast in 1A and Monday's results could effect sectional seedings. Claywell said the mental approach hasn't changed much with the class expansion, but there is a little more buzz for the postseason.
“The mindset is the same, it's how many girls can we get through to state, but what's different this year is without Alton and Edwardsville in our sectional, depending on where we end up, we all think we have a chance to win a sectional championship,” Claywell said. “It's different because Edwardsville is not dominating us anymore. With Edwardsville going up a class it opens up opportunities for all of us.”
It's that opportunity that Kreutztrager is banking on for the Shells.
“I think going to state would be amazing,” Kreutztrager said. “That's one of my goals. I'm just excited to see where we can go from here.”