Staying loose: Those are the watchwords for the Greenwood girls tennis team today.
And that probably goes double for the Woodmen’s doubles players.
Always easier said than done, staying loose is the company line for the seventh-ranked Woodmen (19-2) when they take on No. 5 Park Tudor (11-5) in today’s quarterfinals round of the IHSAA Girls Tennis State Finals at Center Grove.
Greenwood made the state finals for the third straight year, and that means, of course, advancing is almost exponentially more difficult.
The Woodmen are well aware of that, especially after surviving a grueling 3-2 triumph against Terre Haute North Vigo in the semistate this past Saturday to reach the state finals.
Greenwood’s previous two state finals appearances resulted in 3-2 setbacks in the quarterfinals. It will have to get past the fifth-ranked Panthers, an opponent they haven’t seen this spring, to reach Saturday’s state semifinals.
The Woodmen are hardly overlooking their next foe.
“Park Tudor has a very good reputation, and we respect them,” Greenwood coach Steve Gantz said. “We have nothing to fear and nothing to lose, so we can play looser, and that’s a good position to be in.”
Heading into the season, Gantz was in the interesting position of having a completely veteran singles lineup and doubles teams that were, at the least, young and untested in varsity competition and, at the most, certainly not settled upon.
The 20th-year mentor settled on a plan to find the right combinations among his doubles candidates to complement a the team’s formidable lineup of three singles seniors, twins Jackie and Jade Kawamoto and Makenzie Estrem, who combined to claim 66 of 69 singles contests.
Gantz’s plan was not an overnight process as the players to which the players and their coach would attest.
It was a much looser situation than the players would have liked, but they persisted all the same.
“It was hard on us,” said senior Madison Guadian, who had the most varsity playing experience coming into the season. “We had six girls going for four spots and we rotated all four spots. We all had to work hard.
“It was frustrating at those times when you really wanted to play, but you’d have to sit out.”
Guadian and her No. 2 doubles partner, sophomore Abby Chatham, rallied to prevail in a three-set decision against Terre Haute North. The 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 verdict took about two hours to play.
The No. 1 doubles team of junior Ali Youngman and sophomore Joanna Moran was disappointed it was able to triumph in the semistate and plans to make a strong showing Friday.
“We want to go in with our heads high, not go in thinking we’re going to lose, said Moran, sister of former Greenwood boys tennis twins Jordan and Justin Moran.
“We’ve just got to play our own game and do the best we possibly can,” Youngman added. “That’s all you can ask for.”
The other two athletes who were in the six-player rotation were sophomore Ally Newman and freshman Molly Jacobs.
Gantz noted they contributed victories in the both the Woodmen’s county and Mid-State Conference tournament titles.
In the best of situations, any doubles team would like to reach the point where the partners would even be able to finish each other’s sentences.
Gantz said any doubles team needs to be able to serve the ball, return the ball and do the basics.
The players had clear thoughts about the mental aspects.
“You’ve just got to know your partner is working hard too,” Youngman said. “You don’t get mad at them, and you don’t get mad at yourself. You just move on.”
“At the beginning of the season, I was pretty horrible, so I feel like it has made me a lot better,” said Chatham. “We haven’t lost in the sectional, regional and semistate. The matches have kept getting harder, but we’ve played together.”
“For me and Abby, when I’m at the net, I know that she’s got my back,” added partner Gaudian.
Gantz has certainly appreciated the invaluable help of Greenwood’s boys varsity coach John Hannah, who has guided the doubles combos to keep moving forward and not falling back into some habits when a given match isn’t going well.
And he’s grateful for what the players have given.
“We needed that extra boost from doubles players, and they’re given that to us.”