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."
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.
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.