Photo by Bill Roseberry
Marquette’s Elena Gable hits a return earlier in the season during a dual with Alton. The Explorers and Redbirds, along with CM, EA-WR, Roxana and the rest of the girls’ prep tennis community, delve into postseason play starting Friday. The River Bend teams will be in the Edwardsville Sectional.
There is no doubt that when it comes to the postseason for tennis in Illinois, it’s a bear.
With only 314 programs in the state, tennis remains a one-class system, pitting the likes of East Alton-Wood River and Roxana with the likes of Edwardsville and Alton.
So it won’t be easy when the River Bend schools head to the EHS Tennis Center for the Edwardsville Sectional on Friday and Saturday. The Tigers are a juggernaut in girls’ tennis, looking for their 18th straight sectional crown.
Joining EHS are Alton, Marquette Catholic, Civic Memorial, EA-WR, Roxana, Metro East Lutheran, Granite City, Highland and Jersey.
The biggest omission from that group will be Triad. Annually part of the northern sectional in the Metro East, the Knights have been shifted to the Belleville East Sectional this year.
“We feel this year with Triad not being in the sectional, it’s certainly more wide open than it has been years past,” Roxana head coach Michael Kathriner said.
Last year Triad occupied three of the eight spots that qualified for state. The top four singles entries and top four doubles entries advance to state.
Eyes will be on Alton’s Janelle Wilson, who won the Southwestern Conference championship at No. 1 singles last weekend by beating Belleville West’s Kayleigh Thurwalker and Edwardsville’s Callaghan Adams in the same afternoon. Wilson and Adams are the favorites to battle for the sectional title in singles.
“Hopefully we can get another Adams vs. Janelle championship match,” AHS head coach Robert Logan said. “I think that would be fantastic for everybody there just to watch that.”
Wilson split with Adams during the season, losing in a dual at Edwardsville before beating her at the SWC Tournament. She’s aware of the weight of the sectional match, as it helps determine seeding at state. Wilson does think her recent win over Adams will help at the sectional.
“It definitely gives me a little more confidence because I’ll have to play her again (at sectional),” Wilson said. “Getting over that hump I guess, that definitely helps. I played well (at SWC Tournament), but I didn’t play crazy good. I played my game well and did what I needed to do.”
Wilson admitted adjustments to help her improve for the sectional can easily be made.
“I need to hit more of my first serves in and move the ball around in the box,” she said.
Wilson will be looking to become the first sectional champion for the Redbirds since Allison Callahan in 2009.
As for other singles players who may have a shot to get out of the sectional, Marquette’s Shelby Jones could make a bid, as well as Roxana’s Sydney Owsley.
As a freshman last season, Owsley advanced to state with her sister Samantha. Samantha died in a car accident last November, and while Sydney has been coping with that tragedy, she also makes the adjustment to singles. Kathriner thinks her experiences on the court from ‘13 can help her game this weekend.
“Last year did give her some tournament experience as far as what it takes to finish out,” Kathriner said. “I don’t think she realizes how big a feat that was for her. I think just having that experience of how big of a point this matters or that matters in the end is going to help her.”
In doubles, Kathriner hopes for good things from the team of Anna and Georgia Ballard, while Logan thinks his duo of Shannon Willis and Abby Fischer could make a push toward one of the top four slots. Marquette head coach Jim Claywell thinks his team of Elena Gable and Laura Moore have a chance to get out in doubles, too.
The last time no one from the River Bend advanced from sectionals was 2004. That’s likely not to be repeated this year, but it will likely be Edwardsville hauling in the sectional gold again.
“You can’t say enough about what (EHS coach) Dave (Lipe) does,” Logan said. “He does a tremendous job with his feeder programs and it’s not just him; it’s the school district. Dave does a flat-out great job year in and year out.”