URBANA – During the regular season, Champaign Central's girls' tennis team was handily beaten in dual matches by the best squads the area has to offer.
None of that mattered at Saturday's Urbana Sectional. The Maroons used their strength in doubles to capture the team championship that surprised even themselves.
"We had no idea we would win this," Central coach Gary Day said. "We had to have been a tremendous underdog, and we're very fortunate. But my girls played very hard."
The Maroons earned it. Their top doubles team of Nelli Golmeeva and Samantha Emery finished third, defeating teammates Anna Rodgers and Ellen Moe in the third-place match, 6-3, 6-2. Each duo is headed for next weekend's state meet in the Chicago suburbs.
Central finished with 17 points. Bradley-Bourbonnais, St. Thomas More and Danville each compiled 16 and Centennial had 14.
The Maroons got four points from singles players Gabriella Pagliuca and Shoham Band.
"We were very fortunate in the draw, especially in singles, where we didn't hit any seeds until (Saturday's rounds)," Day said. "My second doubles team hadn't played together until the (Big 12 tournament), and they just sort of jelled. And they're both very competitive. The more they played, the better they got."
Still, the Maroons had to wait until the event's final match before the outcome was decided. Bradley-Bourbonnais' Aylin Sipahi and Josie Linman defeated Danville's Emma Peck and Bethany Sexton 6-2, 7-5 in the doubles championship. Had the Vikings won the match, Danville would have captured the team title.
"I didn't think Bradley-Bourbonnais would beat Danville, and my girls had been there since 8 a.m. and they were tired, so I told them to go ahead and leave and I would let them know if a miracle happened," Day said. "Bradley-Bourbonnais got up one set and 4-1 so I had to call four of them back so we could get a photo with the plaque."
In singles, St. Thomas More's Madie Baillon earned her second straight ticket to state after a 6-1, 6-2 victory against Centennial's Allison Hansen. They'll be joined in Chicago by Bismarck-Henning's Lori Haas, who was fourth.
Baillon lost to Urbana standout Katarina Marjanovic in last year's final.
"I've played Allison because she's from here and we're in a lot of (age) group things together," Baillon said. "I'm really happy with how I'm playing."
As a freshman, Baillon won her first match at state before falling in the second round.
"It's a whole different world in Chicago," Baillon said.
Hansen had advanced to the final with a 6-4, 6-2 semifinal victory against Haas. Kankakee's Charisma King defeated Haas in the third-place match, 6-3, 6-0.