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Alton's Abby Fischer hits a return on Tuesday at Alton High School during No. 3 singles against Marquette Catholic.
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Elena Gable of the Explorers prepares to return a backhand shot against Alton on Tuesday during No. 3 singles action at AHS.
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Marquette's Adri Ventimiglia hits a return in No. 4 singles action Tuesday at Alton High School vs. the Redbirds.
GODFREY – Robert Logan played sports at Marquette Catholic High. Now, he coaches girls' tennis at Alton High. So he knows first-hand of the passionate competition between the Explorers and the Redbirds.
“It’s a rivalry, but it’s a fun one,” Logan said.
Marquette coach Jim Claywell said, “The girls know each other because many of them went to the same grade schools. A lot of them treat it (rivalry) as fun.”
Logan and the Redbirds had a bit more fun Tuesday. Alton shaded Marquette, 5-4 on the AHS courts for the Birds’ first victory over the Explorers since 2007. The Redbirds improved to 8-4. The Explorers are 3-2.
“It really means a lot to me, especially being a Marquette graduate,” Logan said. “I really love it at Alton High.”
Janelle Wilson understands those sentiments. She’s playing her senior season for the Redbirds after spending two years at Marquette. Wilson was at AHS last fall, but she didn’t play IHSA tennis.
“I’m pretty happy we won and I really enjoying beating them,” she said of the city championship match. Wilson defeated Marquette freshman Shelby Jones, 6-0, 6-0, then teamed with Mary McDaniel for a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 2 doubles against Adri Ventimiglia and Jones.
Claywell noted, “We have to win the close matches and get more experience, that’s all. Alton was more consistent than we were today.”
McDaniel joined Wilson as a double winner for the Redbirds. She beat Ventimiglia, 6-2, 6-2 in singles. AHS senior Emily Formea scored a 6-0, 6-2 decision over Claire Snyder and junior teammate Shannon Willis topped Laura Moore, 6-4, 3-6, 10-5 in a pivotal bout.
“Our seniors stepped up and I can’t say how proud I am of Shannon and the way she played,” Logan said. “She has shown great grit.”
The Explorers had their share of gritty performances, too. Elena Gable downed Abby Fischer, 6-1, 6-4 at No. 3 singles and Abbi Simonds beat Abby Schenk, 7-5, 7-5 at No. 6 singles.
In doubles action, the Explorers’ Moore and Gable defeated Willis and Fischer, 6-3, 7-6 at No. 1. Marquette’s Snider and Simonds posted a 6-1, 6-0 win over Formea and Schenk at No. 3 doubles.
Wilson figures the Redbirds can create more memorable moments this season. They will join Marquette, Civic Memorial, Collinsville, Granite City, Triad, Jersey and Highland — if its teacher's strike gets resolved — on Saturday at the River Bend Tournament. It’s scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Matches will be played at AHS, Moore Park and Rock Spring Park.
“I love my team and they are very supportive of me,” said Wilson, 10-2 thus far in singles play. She’s strongly considering attending Nebraska-Omaha to play college tennis next season. The Mavericks belong to the Division I Summit League.
Logan senses good things ahead for the Birds. “I’m very happy with the way we have played,” he said. “We graduated six of our top eight players, but I see nothing but positive things so far this season.”
Claywell sees similar encouraging signs for the Explorers. “It’s an opportunity year for us. We have 21 girls out, the most we have ever had,” he said.
He added, “From an experience standpoint, we are a little young. Our goals are to always be competitive, get ready for the sectional and see how many players that we can qualify for state.”