STM's Baillon continues to make racket on state scene

CHAMPAIGN — Madie Baillon's singles record this season was 22-3.

It was the smaller number, though, that had the biggest impact on the larger number.

And there was one match, in particular, that showed just how far Baillon, St. Thomas More's standout junior, has advanced in her tennis career.

It was a defeat — a three-setter against Centennial's Allison Hansen. The Champaign girls have played each other countless times while growing up, and Baillon in recent years had consistently enjoyed the upper hand.

On that day, Hansen earned a hard-fought victory. And that's when Baillon had some eye-opening experiences. She suddenly realized the burden of expectations.

"It didn't feel different until I lost to Allison," said Baillon, The News-Gazette's two-time Area Player of the Year. "That's when it kind of kicked in. People were like, 'Wait. You lost? You're not supposed to lose.' Yes, I lost. She played good. She won. I'm not bagging on her or anything like that. She did well. But then it kicked in: I have a (reputation) to keep and that's when I thought, 'I have to pull this out.' "

Fast forward a few weeks to the sectional final: It's yet another Baillon vs. Hansen matchup. But this was a different Baillon. She was determined to make what she called "a statement."

Baillon won 6-0, 6-2.

"I don't know how to put it," she said, pausing for the words. "I just went in being confident with a good mind-set — just wanting to let people know that I didn't go anywhere. I was still there."

Baillon went on to win two matches in the main draw at state, finishing in the top 32 and confirming her pre-tournament seeding. It was the culmination of another season of growth for the player who holds the USTA's top ranking for players from central Illinois.

"I came in with a lot more confidence than I ever have before," she said. "My coaches (Jim Tressler, Leigh Finnegan) were a big part of it. They were always good about giving advice."

That advice is a big part of Baillon's game. For her, it's not so much about the strokes. She's fundamentally sound in that area, and though she readily concedes she's not the strongest player in physical terms, Baillon knows the game. For her, the biggest hurdle is mental.

"(I'm) maturing. I think I've taken my game to the next level," she said. "It's really just my mind that is my biggest problem."

Isn't that the case with all of us?

In any event, Baillon's tennis game will take on added significance soon. Baillon plans to play in college, and she wants to start taking some unofficial visits to campuses this spring. The so-called offseason — there really isn't one, truth be told — is important because college coaches will begin taking a closer look as she's taking part in key USTA tourneys like the Midwest Closed.

"This spring and summer is going to be a really big year for me," Baillon said.

In the meantime, she'll continue to write the word BELIEVE on her tennis shoes. She'll continue to tell herself that she can do this. She'll try to reinforce her confidence level that — even with a loss — is unwavering.

"It's just a little reminder," she said. "If you believe, there's no doubt in your mind. And you'll likely come out with the most confidence."

Honorable mention
An alphabetical look at the Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year honorable mention list:
NAME    SCHOOL    YR.
Carson Arends    Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley    So.
Kelly Arends    Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley    Sr.
Shoham Band    Champaign Central    Sr.
Taylor Ellis    Danville    Fr.
Mara Fallon    St. Thomas More    So.
Jackie Freehill    Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley    Sr.
Lori Haas    Bismarck-Henning    Sr.
Allison Hansen    Centennial    Jr.
Courtney Hart    Danville    Jr.
Becca Lewis    Danville    Fr.
Rachael Lewis    Danville    So.
Emily Lydic    Centennial    Jr.
Megan Marble    Danville    Sr.
Neha Patel    Danville    So.
Katie Ricks    Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley    Sr.
Anna Rodgers    Champaign Central    Sr.
Amy Shah    Danville    So.
Alyssa Vodacek    St. Thomas More    Jr.
Jiwon Yoon    St. Thomas More    Jr.

Repeat performance
For the third time, there’s a repeat selection for Girls’ Tennis Area Player of the Year. The list of recipients:
YEAR    NAME    SCHOOL
2011    Madie Baillon    St. Thomas More
2010    Madie Baillon    St. Thomas More
2009    Katarina Marjanovic    Urbana
2008    Katarina Marjanovic    Urbana
2007    Katarina Marjanovic    Urbana
2006    Lindsey Hallett    Champ. Central
2005    Lindsey Hallett    Champ. Central
2004    Kenisha Webb    Urbana

Get to know Madie Baillon
She’s Player of the Year because ... the St. Thomas More junior won her second straight sectional singles title, then reached the third round of the state tournament’s main draw. She finished 22-3 in singles.
Season highlight: “Sectional. I went in wanting to make a statement, and I was pretty happy with the outcome. I played really well and was confident. And I had a lot of great supporters at the match that I didn’t really expect.”
A few of my favorite things: Green tea ice cream ... slushies ... Kamakura restaurant ... Amer Delic ... J. Crew ... Tiffany & Co. ... the beach ... shoes ... attending the U.S. Open ... snorkeling in Maui ... seeing the Eiffel Tower.
 

Sections (3):Prep Sports, Sports, Tennis
Categories (3):Prep Sports, Tennis, Sports

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