Friday’s Class 1A Champaign Central girls’ tennis sectional began with 12 teams contesting singles play at Champaign’s Lindsay Courts and doubles action at Urbana’s Blair Park.
By the first round’s conclusion, just four schools could claim representation in Saturday morning’s all-Lindsay Courts semifinals.
St. Thomas More and Central each advanced multiple entries through Friday’s quarterfinals, while Schlarman’s first-ever sectional stint will continue courtesy a lone singles athlete. Maroa-Forsyth finalizes the aforementioned quartet.
“We had a real good day,” said first-year Sabers coach Scott Weakley, whose program won a sectional championship last season. “Everybody performed well. ... I really haven’t even looked (at repeating as the sectional winner), to be honest with you. I tell the girls one point at a time.”
STM holds two of the four singles semifinal berths. Top-seeded sophomore Maddy Swisher received a double-bye before breezing through Watseka’s Emma Simons 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
Sabers senior Ashley Mills faced a much tougher road to her own spot in the singles semis. After a bye, she defeated Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s Katie Steidinger 6-2, 6-3. Sixth-seeded Mills then rallied past Urbana’s Sophia Solava — the No. 3 seed — 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
“Those girls just played remarkable. It was really fun to watch,” Weakley said of Mills and Solava. “Ashley is the ultimate battler. She works her way into a match and figures it out.”
It’s not lost on Weakley that he could witness an all-STM singles final, since Swisher and Mills are on opposite sides of the bracket.
“I don’t know what I’d do,” Weakley said. “I’d have to stay out of that one. It’d be exciting.”
Mills would need to get past Central junior Alexis Jones, the second seed who overcame St. Teresa’s Colleen Larry 7-6 (2), 7-6 (0) in a tricky first match before eliminating Mt. Zion’s Audrey Bradford 6-1, 6-0 in the quarters.
“She found her stride (in the second match),” Maroons coach Gary Day said. “Sometimes you play not to lose rather than to win, and I think that her first match gave her some confidence that she does have great skills and just needs to calm down a little bit.”
Swisher’s semifinal opponent is a bit of a surprise, if only because the foe’s school never has been to this stage of a sectional.
Schlarman freshman Maya Jenny, the No. 5 seed, got around Maroa-Forsyth’s Neha Bashir 6-0, 6-3 and Mt. Zion’s fourth-seeded Allison Bradford 6-2, 6-4 to become Swisher’s next enemy. The Hilltoppers began their girls’ tennis program just this season.
In the doubles draw, the Sabers’ semifinal qualifying field was rounded out by juniors Nora Kelley and Audrey Horn.
The sixth-seeded pairing trumped No. 4 seed Devangana Rana and Sanjana Paul out of Urbana 6-1, 6-2 in the quarters. Kelley and Horn will meet Maroa-Forsyth’s Mavis Wang and Serena Tuan, the No. 1 seed, in the semifinals.
Central’s fifth-seeded doubles tandem of freshman Mariclare O’Gorman and junior Claudia Larrison found a home in the semifinal round by dispatching Uni High’s Catherine Guo and Tracy Li 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the second of two victories on the day.
“O’Gorman is a freshman, and she just has natural strokes,” Day said. “I call her Elastigirl from the movie ‘The Incredibles’ because she gets everything. ... (Garrison is) less than 5 foot (tall), but she’s a soccer player and according to the athletic director (Jane Stillman) she’s a warrior on the soccer field. And she plays that way in tennis.”
O’Gorman and Larrison, like Kelley and Horn, earned a date with a Maroa-Forsyth duo in the semifinals — Rabya Hasnain and Madison Wang.
Saturday will mark the end of the IHSA season, as the state tournament was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, neither Weakley nor Day feels his semifinal-qualifying girls — all of whom would have earned a spot at state in a normal season — are thrown off by a sectional marking the campaign’s last stop.
“They haven’t really talked about it,” Weakley said. “I’m sure when it’s over they’ll wish they had more, but I think right now they’re just enjoying the moment.”