True, there is no such thing as a good loss.

Except maybe the one that bounced the Center Grove girls tennis team from last year’s state tournament.

Playing on their home court, the Trojans lost a 3-2 semistate heartbreaker against Terre Haute South, ending their bid to reach the state finals.

Crestfallen but determined, the Trojans dedicated their offseason to clearing the semistate hurdle — which they have.

By virtue of last week’s semistate win against Park Tudor, the 10th-ranked Trojans host No. 4 South Bend St. Joseph (17-20) on Friday in a quarterfinals match of the IHSAA Girls Tennis State Finals.

For the Trojans (17-3), who returned every starter from last year’s team, their bid to reach the state finals began the instant they lost in the 2015 semistate.

“That was a big motivator for us,” said sophomore Isabella Schoolcraft, the team’s No. 1 singles player. “We have pushed ourselves just as hard now as we were at the beginning of the season.

“All the girls are motivated to do as well as we can and hopefully get a state title.”

Friday’s winners advance to Saturday’s semifinals at North Central High School. Those winners will play for the state championship at 2 p.m.

Center Grove is one of eight teams still in contention for the title.

“We’ve definitely improved over the season,” said junior Bailey Sammons, who plays No. 1 doubles with sophomore partner Cassidy Hardin. “Playing those difficult (regular-season) matches really helped us prepare.

“We’re feeling pretty good, pretty confident.”

In the state finals for only the second time in team history, Center Grove is a young squad with only one senior — No. 2 doubles player Madison Smeathers — in the starting lineup. But many have played together for a long time, having been teammates in middle school and working together during offseasons.

Moreover, each has been driven by a common goal to reach the state finals — a drive, again, that began following last year’s semistate demise.

“That’s the starting point,” veteran coach Debby Burton said. “They’re a group of girls that has been been together for a long time. They’ve had a really good season and just keep getting better.

“They’ve been really focused all season on that (state finals) being their goal.”

Now that the Trojans have arrived, they have no plans for an early exit.

Winners of 11 straight matches, they plan to ride their momentum beyond the quarterfinals.

“We’ve already made it farther than last year, so we hope to advance,” Sammons said. “Mainly (by) just taking it one point at a time and realizing anything can happen.

“You just play every point like it’s your last, and you’d be surprised what can happen.”

Burton wouldn’t be surprised if the Trojans extend their season as far as the championship match. Their only losses are against No. 1 North Central, which is out of the tournament, and No. 2 Carmel and No. 6 Jasper.

“There are eight teams left in the state tournament. They’re all going to be solid teams, so nothing’s going to be easy,” Burton said. “They just have to continue to work.”

With a young team that will graduate only one starter, the Trojans have a dual objective of contending for the championship and picking up experience along the way.

That, and enjoying the moment.

“No pressure. On any given day, anybody can win,” Burton said. “Let’s enjoy this and have fun. Let’s go in there and see what we can do. Let’s get experience at this level.

“We’re always looking to grow.”

If you go

IHSAA Girls State Tennis Finals


Top bracket

When: 3 p.m. today

Where: Carmel High School

Match 1: Cathedral (18-1) vs. Carmel (13-1)

Match 2: Terre Haute South (22-0) vs. Columbus North (19-6)

Bottom bracket

When: 3 p.m. Friday

Where: Center Grove

Match 3: South Bend St. Joseph (17-2) vs. Center Grove (17-3)

Match 4: Jasper (18-3) vs. Fort Wayne Carroll (20-2)


When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: North Central High School

Match 5: Winner of Match 1 vs. winner of Match 2

Match 6: Winner of Match 3 vs. winner of Match 4

State championship

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: North Central High School

Match 7: Winner of Match 5 vs. winner of Match 6

Admission: $5 per day

At a glance

Final top 20 state poll


1;North Central



4;South Bend St. Joseph




8;Terre Haute South


10;Center Grove




14;Fort Wayne Canterbury


16;Park Tudor

17;Hamilton Southeastern

18;Fort Wayne Carroll

19;Guerin Catholic

20;Bloomington North

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.