GTEN POYs 1

Colin Likas/The News-Gazette St. Thomas More girls' tennis athletes Maddy Swisher, left, and Noelle Schacht pose for a photo inside Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Swisher and Schacht are The News-Gazette All-Area co-Players of the Year.

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CHAMPAIGN — Noelle Schacht was vying for a Class 1A state doubles tournament berth as a St. Thomas More junior.

Maddy Swisher wasn’t in high school. But she found herself practicing across from Schacht in the days leading up to sectional action.

It was widely known in the Saber girls’ tennis circle that Swisher would be a highly-touted freshman one year later. Her success in United States Tennis Association events and other independent matches dictated it.

So Swisher, still in junior high, dropped by to work with Schacht and Schacht’s doubles partner, then-sophomore Ashley Mills.

“It was interesting,” Schacht said, “... to see someone so young kind of beat me. I guess she says that I wasn’t too happy about it, but I don’t really remember.”

Swisher certainly does.

“I didn’t think she liked me,” Swisher said. “But after the (2019) season started, I knew we’d be close and good friends.”

Good friends, yes. Also News-Gazette All-Area co-Players of the Year.

Schacht, a senior, and the newcomer Swisher formed the preeminent local girls’ doubles team this year.

They won the Class 1A Champaign Central Sectional title in impressive fashion, losing just three of 51 games across four matches. They then overcame a competitive loss in the second round of the state tournament to boast a 4-2 record in three days worth of play.

By the time Schacht and Swisher slipped up in the 1A doubles consolation bracket’s fifth round, their 23-7 record was far and away the area’s best.

And they were the only locals still involved in any state conversation.

“It was incredible to make it as far as we did,” Schacht said. “The tennis that we played was definitely some of the best tennis that we played all season — and rightfully so, and it needed to be so.”

★ ★ ★

Schacht was well aware Swisher would carry a certain hype around her, even as a prep newcomer.

16th News-Gazette All-Area girls’ tennis team: Meet the full teams

Getting some reps with Swisher in the aforementioned pre-sectional situation in 2018 only bolstered that knowledge.

“From what I had heard, she was pretty special,” Schacht said. “She didn’t let us down.”

But Schacht had plenty to bring to a doubles pairing with Swisher. Schacht qualified for state twice before Swisher enrolled at STM — once in singles and once in doubles.

And she offered a viewpoint not familiar to Swisher.

“I had never played on an actual team before,” Swisher said, “so it was a very different but a very good experience to play as a team.”

First-year Sabers coach Eric Schacht placed his top two singles athletes together in a doubles pairing for STM’s regular season opener on Aug. 27 against Normal West.

Schacht and Swisher fell 8-2 to Emily Kettering and Madeline Gentry, who would go on to collect three wins in the 2A state doubles draw.

“That was our ... first time playing together,” Swisher said. “But we held up with them pretty good.”

“We did pretty well,” Schacht added. “So I thought that we could manage to do some good things during the season.”

Another example of that arrived at just the right moment for Schacht and Swisher.

They’d taken on the Teutopolis duo of Alli Brumleve and Macy Probst early in the year and struggled. An Oct. 14 rematch still yielded a defeat for Schacht and Swisher, but also better vibes about their direction heading into the sectional.

“It was freezing, and it was really late at night,” Swisher said of the second bout with 1A’s eventual sixth-place doubles tandem. “We played amazing tennis for the circumstances, and we did way better against them.”

★ ★ ★

Just what made Schacht and Swisher able to coexist so well despite their differences in age and tennis background?

The girls feel there are psychological and physical aspects to what made the combination work.

“We can each get a little bit mental,” Schacht said, “but we’re good at calming each other down.”

“She was really good at groundstrokes,” Swisher added. “I was good at the net. So ... when I was at the net and she was back, we could go long points and we would finish off the points.”

The two also proved incorrect what Swisher believes to be a common misconception: “That upperclassmen don’t like lowerclassmen.”

“I found myself feeling a little subpar because in tennis, while I had age on her, I didn’t necessarily have skills (Swisher does),” Schacht said. “Being partners together was beneficial on all parts because it shows how our team works. It shows how we can work together in any age group.”

Schacht and Swisher engaged in additional bonding during car rides to and from meets. Swisher’s personal favorite preempted the regular-season finale at Teutopolis.

“We all brought snacks. We were playing really loud music,” Swisher said. “Just knowing that it was our last car ride together for the season, it was a lot of fun.”

★ ★ ★

Of course, it wasn’t the last moment together for Schacht and Swisher in STM gear.

The sectional and its ensuing result guaranteed extra time shared on the court.

Swisher believed she and Schacht would be state-bound by the end of that sectional, but she wound up surprised by how smoothly the two operated.

“I didn’t think we were going to win,” Swisher said, “because I played with a lot of the girls that were in that tournament, and I knew they were very good and very skilled.”

No one in the event was a match for Schacht and Swisher. For the former’s money, keeping an even demeanor played a significant factor.

“Just making sure that we didn’t come into the next match thinking that we’re better than we are,” Schacht said. “That the other team’s worse than we are. Making our play worth the match.”

Perhaps in no moment was that mindset more critical than during the pair’s second consolation-bracket tilt, with Chicago University’s Ananya Asthana and Macy Beal. The match was completed over the course of two days, concluding with a 6-1, 4-6, 13-11 result in favor of the Sabers.

“I served on game point against us,” Schacht said. “So just thinking I could’ve served my last serve, it was scary.”

Swisher harbored similar feelings.

“We were on match point to lose three times during our tiebreaker,” Swisher said. “I was upset that the season could’ve ended, but I wasn’t upset at how we played.”

The season didn’t end in that match, though. Nor in the next. Schacht and Swisher finished one triumph away from being on the same stage as Teutopolis’ Brumleve and Probst.

For Schacht, it offered affirmation that tennis deserves some love at STM.

“Just not seeing a ton of recognition from the school (in the past), it’s kind of sad because we’re out here giving it our all,” Schacht said. “But this year ... we gave them something to talk about.”

Honor Roll

A look at previous News-Gazette All-Area girls’ tennis Players of the Year:

YEAR ATHLETE(S) SCHOOL

2019 Noelle Schacht St. Thomas MoreMaddy Swisher

2018 Lauren Ellis Danville

2017 Lindsay Huang Uni High

2016 Madison Scaggs CentennialVictoria Gonzalez

2015 Lauren Neitzel Centennial

2014 Lauren Neitzel Centennial

2013 Rachel Lewis Danville

2012 Allison Hansen Centennial

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 Champaign Central

2005 Lindsey Hallett Champaign Central

2004 Kenisha Webb Urbana

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).