Photo by Bill Roseberry
Alton’s Janelle Wilson is all smiles after winning the No. 1 singles championship of the River Bend Tournament. Wilson is expecting big things from her senior season with the Redbirds.
GODFREY — Janelle Wilson is happy to be an Alton Redbird.
For AHS head girls’ tennis coach Robert Logan, the feeling is mutual.
Wilson, a senior for Alton, is playing No. 1 singles after sitting idle her junior season. Wilson played her first two years with the Marquette Catholic Explorers, but upon transferring to AHS, she was forced to sit out her junior campaign because of IHSA transfer rules.
Now she’s back and making up for lost time.
“I like my team,” Wilson said. “They are all very supportive.”
Wilson made a splash when she came on the scene with the Explorers, qualifying for state as a freshman and a sophomore.
In her freshman year, she was fourth at the Alton Sectional and she followed that up with a second-place finish at the Edwardsville Sectional in 2012. She was 0-2 at the state tournament in Chicagoland as a freshman but did better as a sophomore, going 3-2 and reaching the fourth round of the consolation bracket.
Her decision to transfer erased her opportunity to build on that in 2013, but Wilson doesn’t think being absent as a junior hindered her progression as a tennis player.
“It wasn’t necessarily that hard,” she said. “I wanted to go to state, but I just played my usual tournaments, so I wasn’t really hurting that much.”
She said not having the pressures of the prep season helped with getting acclimated to the much larger classes at Alton.
“It was better for the beginning of the year last year because I didn’t have as much on my plate,” Wilson said. “I had more time, so that helped.”
Logan is impressed with what Wilson has brought to the Redbird program, and not just as a tennis player — he raves about her work ethic and prowess as a teammate.
“Basically, you’re bringing an all-stater into your lineup and bumping everybody down a spot, so it helps tremendously,” Logan said. “She deserves all the credit and praise she gets. I’ve been around tennis for 15 years and my brother Patrick Logan and his partner Patrick Spain made the quarterfinals in doubles (at state) and Janelle works harder than they did, which I didn’t think would be possible. She puts the work in, goes over to St. Louis after our practices. She’s been a great addition to the team and great with the other girls. She hits with them and is making everybody else better just being there.”
Her addition to the Southwestern Conference has deepened the talent pool. She joins a great pair at No. 1 singles with Edwardsville’s Callaghan Adams and Belleville West’s Kayleigh Thurwalker.
Wilson lost to Adams 1-6, 6-2, 10-8 on Sept. 11 at Edwardsville in a match that lasted nearly two hours. Adams then fell to Thurwalker 6-3, 2-6, 10-8 on Sept. 16.
Wilson is scheduled to face Thurwalker on Oct. 8 at home. A Wilson victory could cause a headache at the seeding meeting for the SWC Tournament. Wilson is looking forward to it.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the Belleville West match,” Wilson said. “That will be fun.”
Logan said her presence has certainly made the SWC more interesting on the singles circuit.
“South of I-80 those three are the top for what tennis has to offer,” he said. “All three of them are probably looking at a 9-16 seed and maybe a little higher depending how the rest of the season plays out.
“Janelle lost to Adams in a hard-fought three setter; Thurwalker just knocked off Adams, so if Janelle can beat Thurwalker you’ve got a three-way tie there. It’s going to be big. You want the No. 1 seed at that (SWC) tournament. That will be one where you set the chairs up, put your legs up, get some popcorn and enjoy it.”
Wilson has her sights set on a sectional championship later in the year and then doing some damage at state, but she also has goals past being a Redbird. College is on her radar and she is set on being a Division I player.
“I definitely want to go to college and play tennis, preferably Division I, but I haven’t really picked yet,” she said. “I’m still looking. The University of Nebraska Omaha is looking at me and I have a lot of Division II and III schools on me, but I’m looking to do a little better than that.”
Follow Bill Roseberry on Twitter @broseberry51.