Immediately after driving home the winning point Saturday, Center Grove tennis player Cassidy Hardin turned to exuberantly lift her doubles partner off the ground.
Friends since they were 5 years old, Hardin and Isabella Schoolcraft won the girls state doubles championship with a 6-2, 6-1 conquest of Carroll (Fort Wayne) sophomores Mia Toscos and Lauren VanWyngarden at Park Tudor School.
Schoolcraft and Hardin, Center Grove’s No. 1 doubles team since a May 2 match against Bloomington North, finished with a record of 23-0. Only twice did it play a third set — against conference foes North Central and Carmel in the state quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively.
Afterward, the juniors spent no less than 30 minutes posing with family members, friends and each other as countless cellphone photos were taken.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said Hardin, looking down at the championship medal she was wearing. “It’s unreal, honestly. I can’t believe it. This is crazy.”
Hardin sensed something special could be on the horizon the instant Center Grove coach Debby Burton paired her with Schoolcraft, who played singles early in the season.
“Our first thought is we wanted to win the state championship as a team (the Trojans lost, 3-2, to Providence in the quarterfinals on June 2),” she said. “But since that didn’t work out, we were like, ‘Alright, we’re doing this individually.’ ”
Schoolcraft and Hardin did, finishing with a 9-0 record in the postseason.
The Trojans’ most difficult matches of the season were defeating North Central, 7-5, 3-6, 6-0, on Friday. On Saturday morning, they ousted Carmel’s doubles team of Julia Miller and Grace Marchese, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Even with approximately two hours of down time available before the title match, fatigue wasn’t a concern, according to Burton.
“We’re out here every day doing what we do in the heat,” she said. “We were out of the sun as soon as we could. We were dehydrating. We were doing what we needed to do.”
Center Grove dominated Carroll from the outset, breaking VanWyngarden’s serve to open the match and then holding with Schoolcraft serving for a quick 2-0 advantage. To their credit, the Chargers then scored two points – breaking Hardin’s serve – though it would prove to be their final push.
The Trojans reeled off four consecutive points to close the set. Center Grove fell behind in the second, 1-0, but dominated the action from that point forward with some aggressive shot making.
“My coaches had kind of harped on me about being more aggressive at the net since that’s kind of my specialty. I was like, ‘You know what, this is the State Finals, and if I want to win I’ve got to play my game,” Hardin said.
It’s extremely rare for the same girls doubles team to win more than one state championship. The tandem of South Bend Adams’ Sandra Gyorgyi and Greta Roemer are the only one to this point after winning the title in 1979 and 1980.
With one season of eligibility remaining, Schoolcraft and Hardin could attempt to join them, but likely won’t.
“I would assume that I’ll play singles next year. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it would be awesome to do it again with Cass, and I’m totally open to that,” Schoolcraft said. “But right now I just want to take it all in.”