St. Joseph’s Academy ready for Final Four appearance at state girls tennis tourney
By: Warren Mayes
It’s been a while but the St. Joseph’s Academy Angels are back in the Class 2 state tennis tournament.
St. Joseph’s (15-0) begins play at 9 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 18) in Springfield with a semifinal match against the Lee’s Summit North Broncos (19-3). In the other semifinal, defending state champion Rock Bridge (21-1) will play Jefferson City (15-4).
The winners will meet at 1 p.m. to crown the state champion. Play for singles and doubles will be held Friday and Saturday.
Angels coach Doug Smith said all he knows about the Broncos is their record.
“We know nothing about them except that their dual record is listed as 19-3,” Smith said. “Our hope is to not let them add No. 20 to their win column. If we succeed in denying them that, we will very likely meet our long-time old rival, Rock Bridge, in the final.”
Smith said it’s great to have his club back at state.
“The last time St. Joe’s went to state as a team was 2008,” Smith said. “The victory that year represented five straight years in which the Angels won the state championship. We were zooming in on a sixth straight in 2009 until our No. 1 player and two-time state singles champion Misia Kedzierski, rolled her ankle in the district final after having beaten Kirkwood’s Rachel Stuhlmann 6-0 in the first set.
“With Misia thereby lost for the rest of the season, each player in our lineup had to move up a position, and we subsequently fell to Ladue in the district.”
St. Joseph’s has a rich history in state competition. The Angels have won 14 state championships.
“A significant streak of which I’ll wager very few people are aware is that for 19 straight years St. Joe’s has had either the team or an singles player or an individual doubles team advance to the championship match at the state tournament,” Smith said.
This year, the Angels have been on a roll. St. Joseph’s defeated Ladue 5-1 to win the district championship.
“To be perfectly honest, we fully expected to win the district this year,” Smith said. “All the girls played well, and they have done so throughout this entire season. The girls were happy to have won, but their reaction was actually rather subdued, probably because they were confident of the outcome.”
The win was a sweet one for the Angels, who have been stymied by Ladue in each of the past 3 years.
One reason there was no big celebration, Smith said, was the girls knew they have tough matches coming in the sectional.
“We were already eyeing what we anticipated would be a strong challenge from Lafayette,” Smith said.
In their first match, St. Joseph’s defeated Cor Jesu 5-0 and then blanked Lafayette 5-0 to advance to state.
“Personally, I think ours may have been the strongest Class 2 sectional in the entire state,” Smith said. “Last year, Lafayette won our sectional and went on to state. Columbia’s Rock Bridge High is currently the defending state champion, and Lafayette beat them earlier this season.
“I can’t think of any other Class 2 sectional which includes two teams of such a high level as Lafayette and St. Joe’s.”
During the regular season, St. Joseph’s had defeated Lafayette. However, Smith said his girls were not about to overlook the Lancers.
” What we had to do was to recognize that though we had beaten Lafayette earlier this season but we could not rest on those laurels,” Smith said. ” I told our girls that they need to expect Lafayette to come to the sectional loaded for bear and eager to reverse that earlier result. I’m happy to say that our band of Angels soared that day and clinched the sectional.”
Now, it’s time for state. Smith said the girls are focused.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Smith said. “Focus is one thing, but that doesn’t always translate into a winning performance. There are a number of factors beyond sheer talent which can play into the state championship — experience, confidence, determination, endurance, and good health. Each of our top five players is currently dealing with some kind of physical injury — shin splints, tendonitis, foot pain, rotator cuff strain, back pain.
“Given that litany of concerns, these girls have battled on like warriors. I’m hoping they can persevere through four more tough matches at state.”
Smith said there is no pressure on his squad to maintain their unbeaten record.
“I don’t think these girls will feel any pressure at all about being undefeated,” Smith said. “They’re probably aware that St. Joe’s hasn’t lost this year, but I’d be surprised if they even know what their actual record is. Interestingly, not even once this year have we said a single word about that.
“That said, there is a definite pressure that players often feel when they find themselves at the state tournament, and I’ve seen it virtually paralyze some of the most tournament-tough players when it’s their first time on that big stage. My hope is that these Angels will not give that a thought.”
Here is are the Angels and their season record: No. 1 senior Taylor Revling 11-5, No. 2 senior Grace Hyde 14-3, No. 3 senior Ellie Bisig 17-3, No. 4 sophomore Olivia Conway 18-3, No. 5 sophomore Ellie Helton 21-1, No. 6 sophomore Kaki McDaniel 8-2, No. 7 sophomore Natalie Willis 12-3 and No. 8 sophomore Maddie Stieven 5-3.
His girls are not overly excited yet about state, Smith said. However, he does think that will change.
“The girls are probably more amped than they’re showing at this time,” Smith said. “The last two days of practice have been relatively subdued, so I’m hoping it’s the calm before the storm and that they’ll explode with dynamism when they hit the stage.”
Smith said he is pumped up for state.
“This is my 15th year with St. Joe’s. My teams have won the team title eight times, but I’d have to say it never gets old,” Smith said. “Number nine would be fine. I may be a little more amped this year because it’s been three years since we’ve been to the Final Four.”