Early on, Greenwood girls tennis coach Steve Gantz predicted a struggle.
He was right.
Despite a wealth of experience from last year’s state qualifying team, the Woodmen began the 2013 season without No. 2 singles player Jade Kawamoto. She sat out the first seven matches recovering from foot surgery.
Consequently, the Woodmen started slowly and were largely neglected in the state poll. They were No. 25 in the final balloting.
But no matter.
Greenwood (17-5) isn’t loftily ranked, but it is one of eight teams still vying for the team state championship.
Kawamoto’s return, coupled with seasonlong improvement throughout the lineup, launched the Woodmen to repeat sectional, regional and semistate championships as well as a berth in today’s 3 p.m. IHSAA state finals quarterfinals match against No. 6 Floyd Central (20-4) at Fishers High School.
The winner advances to Saturday’s 10 a.m. semifinals at North Central. The championship match is at 2 p.m.
Having saved their best for last, the Woodmen see no reason why they can’t continue their season deep into Saturday.
“Up and down the lineup, we’re all playing our best tennis,” said senior Claire Gallman, who plays No. 2 doubles with senior Morgan Stunick. “At the beginning of the season, when we didn’t have Jade, we kind of struggled. But it’s kind of all coming together at the right time.
“We’re really ready and excited for (today).”
Senior Brittany Toney, who plays No. 1 doubles with senior Taylor Hudnall, agrees.
“I think we’ve definitely saved our best for last,” Toney said. “Right now we’re just ready to go out there and play and just know that all of our hard work has paid off.”
Determination, and a healthy lineup, have paved the way back to the state finals.
Powered by junior twin sister standouts Jackie and Jade Kawamoto, who are undefeated, respectively, at Nos. 1 and 2 singles, the Woodmen clawed their way back into championship contention by getting heroic performances throughout the season from different positions.
At times, the third and decisive point has come at Nos. 1 or 2 doubles. At other times, it’s come from junior Makenzie Estrem at No. 3 singles.
For the Woodmen, who lost three matches while Jade Kawamoto was out, the collective approach is what has made a special season all the more rewarding.
“We have Jackie and Jade, and a lot of times that can guarantee us an automatic two points, but you always have to have the third to win,” Gallman said. “So it’s really cool to see how our team comes together to always get that third point.”
Gantz, who wasn’t surprised by the rough start, couldn’t agree more. He applauds the way players have maintained poise and built confidence, and refined their games during a season that could have fallen apart almost before it began.
“We knew it was going to be a slow progress thing, that we might struggle with a few things early,” Gantz said. “And then (Jade) has continued to progress and come back, and we’ve just gotten stronger. Just like last year when big matches come up, we just have different people in different positions step up.
“Kind of like last year, you can’t say it was this or that. It was different people at different places getting us through, and kind of moving us on.”
To continue advancing, the Woodmen will have to continue to find ways to scratch out the third point in a heavily competitive final eight field — beginning today with Floyd Central, which upset No. 3 Jasper 3-2 at the Jasper Semistate.
“They’re pretty strong up and down the lineup,” Gantz said. “They’ve got some strong doubles teams and a good No. 1 singles player. They’re just a solid team up and down, so it’s going to be a real fight for us. But it’s a toss-up type of thing.
“We’re not going into it thinking we’re just going up there. We’re going to battle.”
Franklin doubles team still unbeaten
On Saturday, Franklin’s undefeated No. 1 doubles team of senior Kristen Conoley and junior Hannah Hook will compete in the IHSAA doubles regional at Carmel.
Conoley and Hook (20-0) will play Northeastern seniors Kristian Ketron and Claire Ladd (23-1) in a 10 a.m. semifinal match. The winners will play for the regional title at 2 p.m.
“I’m blessed with a great partner who really keeps me up as we go,” Conoley said. “There’s nothing better to feel when you have a partner cheering you when you miss a shot and she says, ‘That’s OK, you’ve got it.’”
Hook credits the pair’s versatile skill-set and chemistry for its success.
“We are all-around playmakers,” Hook said. “Kristen volleys and serves, keeping us together, and my ground shots and my serves make us all-around great together.”