Follow the leader: Junior setting tone for loaded Trojans squad

Isabella Schoolcraft is already used to taking on a leadership role with the Center Grove girls tennis team. Even as a sophomore last spring, she was the go-to girl for her teammates.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was so young, so I think the girls kind of look to me a little bit,” she said.

Her roughly 10 years of experience in the sport certainly give her some credibility, but it also helps that Schoolcraft is, you know, pretty darn good.

Playing in the No. 1 singles spot while Center Grove plays against a particularly daunting schedule, Schoolcraft gets matched up against many of the top individual players in the state. She more than held her own last season, posting a 17-6 overall record, and she heads into this spring highly regarded (TennisRecruiting.net ranks her seventh among juniors in Indiana) and feeling good about her prospects for success.

“Playing No. 1, I’m playing the hardest girls,” Schoolcraft said, “but I play and I practice with those girls year round, so I’m really excited to play them and see how I match up — and I’m pretty confident with how it’ll go.”

Schoolcraft’s confidence extends well beyond herself, and with good reason. The Trojans went 17-4 in 2016 and marched all the way to the quarterfinal round of the state tournament before suffering a narrow 3-2 defeat against South Bend St. Joseph’s — and five of the seven girls who played in that match, including all three singles players, return.

Getting caught up in the team aspect of high school tennis is one of the things Schoolcraft enjoys most about the spring season, and she expects to have plenty to cheer about this year.

“We came out there and surprised a lot of the teams with how strong we were (last season), and I think it’ll be the same this year,” Schoolcraft said.

“I really do think that winning a state championship is a realistic goal.”

Scouting Johnson County's girls tennis teams

Center Grove Trojans

Coach: Debby Burton

Last season: Won sectional, regional and semistates at Center Grove; lost to South Bend St. Joseph’s in state quarterfinal

Who’s back: Katelyn Gray, Carleigh Hardin and Maddie Weeks, seniors; Cassidy Hardin, Emily Hoy and Isabella Schoolcraft, juniors; Ellie Strube, sophomore

Who’s gone: Bailey Sammons, Madison Smeathers

Key newcomers: Holyn Ackerman, Madison Hammill and Abby Hoard, freshmen

Outlook: With almost everyone back from last year’s squad and several promising rookies, the Trojans have high expectations and more than enough firepower to meet them. Schoolcraft will again be at the top of the lineup, but how everyone else slots in behind her remains up in the air. No matter who ends up on the court, Center Grove will be a heavy favorite locally and one of the top-ranked teams in Indiana.

Burton says: “I think our lineup will look a little different than last year. … Our goal is to get back to state and get further than we did last year.”

Edinburgh Lancers

Coach: Rachel O’Brien

Last season: Lost to Columbus North in first round of Columbus East Sectional

Who’s back: Hannah Gosman, Heather Jones, Sydney Schlotter and Allie Schooler, seniors; Paige Johnson, junior; Clara Carman, sophomore

Who’s gone: Megan Collette, Vanessa Hoskins, Emma Lusterfeld and Lilly Parmer

Key newcomers: Molly Bowker, senior; Haley Jones, Haven Link, Sophia Parmer and Katie Roberts, freshmen

Outlook: The Lancers took some hits due to graduation and the transfer of top singles player Hoskins to Brown County, but O’Brien hopes to mitigate the damage with a strong freshman class. Schooler played No. 3 singles last year, while Gosman and Schlotter were paired up at No. 1 doubles. Where they’ll slot in this year’s lineup has not yet been determined. Edinburgh should again be a factor in the Mid-Hoosier Conference.

O’Brien says: “We’re following a really big year from last year. … I think we’ll play very hard and I think we’ll be very competitive.”

Franklin Grizzly Cubs

Coach: Rusty Hughes

Last season: Lost to Greenwood in Center Grove Sectional semifinal

Who’s back: Katherine Purk, senior; Ella Pheifer and Abigail Smith, juniors; Kaitlin Heuchan, Daryn Hyneman and Aden Smith, sophomores

Who’s gone: Nina Biasi and Maddie Long

Key newcomers: Allison Bennett, Rachel Pinnick and Alexa Wilkison, freshmen

Outlook: The Grizzly Cubs are still a pretty young group, with just one senior among the top nine players, but there is a good deal of experience returning as well as a strong trio of freshmen coming in to bolster the lineup. Heuchan, Abigail Smith and Wilkison are the early front-runners to fill the singles positions for a very balanced and deep squad.

Hughes says: “I think we’ll be a pretty good team. … Probably our greatest strength is our depth. I don’t know that we have anybody who’s All-State, but we should be strong all the way through the lineup.”

Greenwood Woodmen

Coach: Jeremy Runge

Last season: Lost to Center Grove in Center Grove Sectional final

Who’s back: Molly Jacobs, senior; Maddie Bright and Alyssa Roscoe, juniors

Who’s gone: Sadie Brooks, Abby Chatham, Joanna Moran and Ally Newman

Key newcomers: Emily Chatham, freshman

Outlook: The Woodmen lost four seniors, including No. 1 singles player Abby Chatham, but Runge is hoping for good things from a freshman class headed by younger sister Emily. Jacobs, the No. 2 singles player a year ago, will again be counted on to lead the way along with fellow veteran regulars Bright and Roscoe. If the newcomers can capably fill the holes in the lineup, Greenwood should be able to compete with just about anyone in the area.

Runge says: “I don’t want to say we’ll be rebuilding, but we have some spots that are a little weaker than they’ve been in the past. … I expect to do pretty well in the Mid-State; I’d like to make top three.”

Indian Creek Braves

Coaches: Ryan Posey and Dave Broshears

Last season: Lost to Whiteland in first round of Center Grove Sectional

Who’s back: Sarah Knight and McKayla Russell, seniors; Katie Burkman, sophomore

Who’s gone: Bailey Wilson

Key newcomers: Allison Harris, freshman

Outlook: The Braves have 16 girls out this year, but Posey — who has plenty of experience at Indian Creek but hasn’t coached the team full-time in three years — is still trying to figure out where many of them will fit. Burkman is established at No. 1 singles, and Harris figures to slot in behind her. Knight and Russell played doubles last year and could be in that role again.

Posey says: “The Indian Creek tennis season usually goes the same way every year I’ve coached. … We’ll try to have fun during the season; winning conference will be the main goal.”

Whiteland Warriors

Coach: Mike Gillespie

Last season: Lost to Center Grove in Center Grove Sectional semifinal

Who’s back: Avneet Badwal, Danielle Patterson and Mikayla Sell, seniors; Hannah Blum, Riley Burnside and Haley Darling, juniors; Reese Johnson, sophomore

Who’s gone: Paityn Gossett and Madison Scott

Key newcomers: Emma Britt and Maria Smarelli, juniors; Bri Harwell, sophomore; Sophie Venter, freshman

Outlook: The Warriors return six players who won varsity letters a year ago and hope to build on that base of experience. Johnson will likely be in the top singles spot, while Badwal and Patterson, who played No. 1 doubles together last year, may do so again. Whiteland faces a tough schedule but expects to be competitive.

Gillespie says: “We’re pretty optimistic about the team we have. I think I’ve got a lot of girls that can play. … No matter what happens, we’ll have a good time.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.