The competition is expected to be fierce as the state’s eight remaining girls tennis teams duke it out for a championship this weekend.
Win or lose, Center Grove certainly won’t be intimidated.
The third-ranked Trojans, who will play No. 4 Providence in a quarterfinal match at Carmel this afternoon, have faced enough strong opposition this season that they’re not going to be rattled by anyone.
In addition to winning the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference tournament title against a field featuring two other top-five teams, Center Grove (20-2) has played regular-season matches against No. 1 Carmel, No. 2 Cathedral, No. 5 North Central, No. 8 Terre Haute South and No. 9 Jasper.
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In all, the Trojans already have played against four of the other seven quarterfinalists and eight of the top 16 teams in the final Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association poll.
By contrast, Providence is unbeaten in 19 dual matches but hasn’t played anyone ranked higher than ninth in those matches (the Pioneers did finish second to Cathedral in a tournament).
At this point in the postseason, most teams are fairly evenly matched from a talent standpoint — so any edge can make a difference.
“It’s proven to me over and over again — the tough schedule we play gives us an advantage,” Center Grove coach Debby Burton said. “Because there’s pressure on us a lot of days, in and out.
“We don’t have a lot of matches you can just walk in and be casual about, and I think that’s important — to figure out how to win, how you handle things in pressure situations, and also get real confident relying on your team.”
The match with Providence figures to be a tight one.
The Pioneers’ top two singles players, Halli Trinkle and Natalie Boesing, have dropped just one match apiece this season and would have to be considered slight favorites, at least on paper, against Center Grove’s Katelyn Gray (15-9 overall) and Emily Hoy (18-5).
Conversely, the Trojans figure to have an edge at No. 1 doubles, where Cassidy Hardin and Isabella Schoolcraft are 13-0 since pairing together at midseason, and at No. 3 singles, where Maddie Weeks is 20-3 and won the MIC championship.
The match could then hinge on No. 2 doubles, where Center Grove’s Carleigh Hardin and Ellie Strube are perfect in 13 matches together and the Pioneers’ pairing of Natalie Jacobi and Heidi Popson also is unbeaten.
Should the Trojans reach the semifinal round Saturday, they’ll face either a Jasper team that they already beat by a 3-2 margin in April or No. 7 South Bend St. Joseph, which eliminated Center Grove, 3-2, in a quarterfinal last spring.
On the other side of the bracket are Carmel and Cathedral, the only two teams to beat the Trojans this season. The Fighting Irish narrowly edged Center Grove 3-2 on May 8, and the Greyhounds won a 5-0 match in April before being topped by the Trojans in the MIC tourney.
There will be plenty of obstacles along Center Grove’s path to a potential first state title, but there’s no question that the Trojans are ready for whatever gets thrown in front of them.
IHSAA State Finals
Providence vs. Center Grove, 3 p.m.
Jasper vs. South Bend St. Joseph, 3 p.m.
At Center Grove
Terre Haute South vs. Carmel, 3 p.m.
Indianapolis Cathedral vs. Fort Wayne Carroll, 3 p.m.
At North Central
Providence-Center Grove winner vs. Jasper-St. Joseph winner, 10 a.m.
Terre Haute South-Carmel winner vs. Cathedral-Carroll winner, 10 a.m.
Championship, 2 p.m.