The Illinois High School Sports Association (IHSA) began its boys’ tennis state tournament in the 1935-36 season. In ‘72-73 the girls’ state tournament was added and tennis has remained primarily untouched since then.
While other sports expanded to two, three and four classes, tennis remained as one. It left small programs like East Alton-Wood River and Roxana battling large schools like Alton and Edwardsville for a chance to advance in the postseason, a definite uphill battle for the little guy.
That’s all changing now, though. Finally, the IHSA has approved an expansion to two classes in prep tennis beginning during the 2016-17 school year. It passed a vote on Oct. 14 at the IHSA office in Bloomington.
Based on ‘14-15 enrollment numbers, the girls would cut off at 1,378, while the boys’ cutoff would be 1,427. These numbers will change before next year, but Alton will be in Class AA, while Roxana, East Alton-Wood River, Roxana and Civic Memorial will slip into Class A. A team like Triad with an 1,150 could be a bubble school in the near future.
There are mixed feelings on the change. The small schools are embracing it, while the large schools are cautious of what it will bring.
“The two-class system is like an early Christmas gift,” said Roxana girls’ head coach Mike Kathriner. “It will help us and schools our size.”
Marquette Catholic girls’ tennis head coach Jim Claywell echoed the same sentiment. Pointing out that sectional titles are now a feasible goal for the small schools. Edwardsville corralled its 19th straight sectional crown at the Alton Sectional on Oct. 17.
“Clearly, we will benefit from two classes and maybe get a few more girls to state,” Claywell said. “It will give us an opportunity to play host to a sectional (at AHS and LCCC) and maybe win one. If you can win one, you can also think about doing well as a team at state, rather than just qualifying individuals for state.”
EA-WR boasts the only individual state champions out of Greater Alton with ‘91-92 doubles state title winners Amy and Sara Hazen. It’s been tough for the southern half of the state to compete with Chicagoland schools in general, large or small, but the shift to two classes could strongly alter the fates of the bigger programs now.
“Hinsdale Central and New Trier have won state more than anyone and in some ways I feel this punishes the larger schools because now you’re all going to be together,” Alton assistant girls’ and boys’ coach Jesse Macias said. “We shouldn’t complain, because the other sports have to do it, but it’s basically going to be a conference tournament to qualify for state. We don’t know where it’s going to be yet, they may change the formula of how they’re going to put people in sectionals, but this will make it tougher.”
The two state tournaments will still occur on the same weekend at the same site in ‘16-17 and there will be the same number of entries as there are now, so the IHSA isn’t increasing its revenue off of it.
Could there be more changes in the future to further advance opportunities for players in both classes? Sure, just take a glance at the way wrestling, cross country and golf handle the postseason. Tennis falls into that same structure for its sport with both team and individual aspects.
The wrestling structure with an individual state tournament and dual team state tournament probably wouldn’t fit due to multiple weekends of play. Weather could put a damper on that format.
But cross country and golf make sense. Advance full teams to fight for a state title, adding up their points, but then also qualify individuals off non-advancing schools. That will mean more entries though and more kids at a state event that already last three days.
“I’d like to see them change it to look more like cross country or golf,” Macias said. “Where teams get out and then some individuals that aren’t on teams get out. That ensures that there is more opportunity for everyone. The IHSA is trying to create opportunities for these schools to have more chances to go to state.”
Time will see how it plays out, but for this year we still have a one-class system and girls’ state began Thursday. Marquette advanced Shelby Jones individually and Elena Gable and Laura Moore in doubles, while Roxana sent Sydney Owsley in singles. Good luck to them.
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The answer to the Oct. 16 AdVantage News sports trivia question is Rock Spring Golf Course. The Rock was the longtime country club in Alton before the opening of Lockhaven Country Club, which is now closed.
Congratulations to Bob Siemer, who answered correctly and wins a $10 voucher toward an oil change at Roberts Ford in Alton.
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