About midway through the season, a Center Grove girls tennis team that had been toying with different lineups found one that it liked.
The Trojans plan to take that same group for a long postseason ride, and they finished off the regular season in style Monday by defeating host Whiteland 5-0 in the title match of the Johnson County Tournament.
“It’s definitely something that they don’t take lightly, and they were excited to come out here and get that championship,” Center Grove coach Debby Burton said.
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Maddie Weeks got the Trojans started on Monday with a 6-0 6-0 victory against Sophie Venter at No. 3 singles. Moments later, the No. 1 doubles team of Isabella Schoolcraft and Cassidy Hardin finished off a win against Hannah Blum and Riley Burnside by the same score.
Schoolcraft had been playing at No. 1 singles for the first part of the season, but she and Hardin have proven to be an elite pairing. When the duo helped Center Grove win the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference title over No. 1 Carmel earlier this month, Hardin and her teammates were convinced that they had found the right mix.
“That was the ultimate test,” Hardin said. “That was what we were basing whether this was a successful lineup for us on, and getting that win was kind of just a confirmation. We were like, ‘All right, this is definitely going to work and it’s going to give us the best opportunity to win the state title.’ “
Emily Hoy clinched the county crown for Center Grove with a 6-0, 6-0 triumph against Haley Darling at No. 2 singles. Katelyn Gray followed by defeating Reese Johnson at first singles, 6-0, 6-4, and the Trojans’ No. 2 doubles tandem of Carleigh Hardin and Ellie Strube capped the match with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Bri Harwell and Avneet Badwal.
Despite the setback, Whiteland coach Mike Gillespie was happy to see his girls put forth a good effort against the No. 3 team in the state.
“You play certain teams in the conference, and there’s good teams,” he said, “but then this team’s on a different level — and if you want to get to that level, you need to see that level. So the girls experienced that today, and they can see, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what we’ve got to get to.’ “
Both teams begin state tournament play on Thursday at the Center Grove Sectional. The host Trojans (15-2) face Indian Creek in one sectional semifinal, while the Warriors (7-8) will play in the other semi against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round match between Franklin and Greenwood.
Schoolcraft said that Monday’s victory will help get the Trojans in the right frame of mind heading into the postseason.
“There was a little more on this match than a regular-season match, just as there will be later this week,” she said, “so it was good to mentally prepare ourselves for later.”