St. Joseph’s Academy pleased with winning 15th state tennis team championship
By: Warren Mayes
Maybe St. Joseph’s Academy coach Doug Smith ought to buy a crystal ball and go into the prediction business.
The Angels just won the Class 2 state team tennis title with a 5-1 thumping of defending state champion Rock Bridge. It’s something Smith said he saw coming. He believed St. Joseph’s would be going to the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield and winning the state title.
“Actually, I did envision exactly that,” Smith said. “From the very get-go, our mantra for this season was ‘state champs,’” Smith said.
He believed in his squad. St. Joseph’s had a team composition of three experienced seniors plus a bevy of talented sophomores. Still, he knew it would be a difficult journey to Springfield.
“I figured Lafayette would be strong, and if we got past them in the sectional we’d probably end up doing battle with our old rival Rock Bridge, which can always be counted on for a solid contingent. To prepare for a state run, we always schedule the very toughest competition around and beyond — including three road trips.
It all paid off in with St. Joseph’s record 15th team championship at state. It was Smith’s nine championship coaching the Angels.
“Our last state championship as a team was in 2008. That year capped a five-year run, and if not for Misia Kedzierski’s ankle sprain in the 2009 district final, I’m sure that team would have made it six in a row.
“The total of 15 titles is pretty impressive in itself, but it may be even more noteworthy when you know that the next closest total by any other school is eight (held by Rock Bridge).
The girls, Smith said, did not associate Rock Bridge with being the defending state champs. It was just the last match of the season.
“Oddly, we weren’t really thinking about the fact that Rock Bridge was the defending champ,” Smith said. “They just represented the final hurdle we needed to clear if we were to close out a perfect undefeated season.
“Beating Rock Bridge, of course, is always special. After all, since 1999 we’ve met Rock Bridge in the state tournament 10 times. I’d say that has established a pretty good rivalry. Happily, we’ve won seven of those 10.”
Smith’s pep talk before the match emphasized the girls needed to deal a blow to the Bruins. What he said sunk in.
“I took the occasion to draw a pugilistic analogy, explaining to the girls that in the boxing ring the champion still wears the belt until someone beats him; and I mentioned that if a championship fight ends in a draw the champ retains his title,” Smith said. “The girls responded by saying, ‘OK, then let’s go knock ’em out.’”
In the state final, Taylor Revling defeated Sophie Farid 6-0 6-4; Grace Hyde topped Phoebe Boeschen 6-3 6-2; Ellie Bisig defeated Maddy Kayser 6-4 5-7 6-2; Olivia Conway got past Tess Lovi 6-4 6-1 and Ellie Helton defeated Allison Baker 6-4 6-2. The lone loss came at No. 6 singles by Kaki McDaniel.
“Kaki can take satisfaction in having won the clinching fifth match in the morning semifinal,” Smith said about the Angels’ 5-1 win over Lee’s Summit North.
Winning is such a sweet elixir, Smith said.
“It never gets old, that’s for sure,” Smith said.
Is there a way to rank the state championships?
“For me, I’d say the hardest-won titles are the best,” Smith said. “And though our 5-0 scores in the district and in the sectional and our 5-1 scores at state may suggest this wasn’t all that hard-won, it was special because of the sheer singles domination.”
In state doubles play, seniors Revling and Bisig finished third in Class 2. I
“I felt Taylor and Ellie played their best doubles in their quarterfinal match versus a good team from Notre Dame de Sion,” Smith said. “The semifinal which they lost to the Rock Bridge team, which went on to win the tournament, was a really tough match which could have gone either way. Tay and El staved off at least five match-points in the second set and finally pulled it out in a taut tie-breaker to force a third set in which they actually held one match-point of their own at 5-4 but just missed closing it out.
“Almost anyone else would probably consider a third-place state finish good, but Tay and El know they had a legitimate chance to win the whole thing so their stance about a third-place finish, alas, is probably not entirely sanguine.”
The Angels will lose Revling, Hyde and Bisig to graduation.
“For the last three years, that trio has held down the top three positions in our lineup,” Smith said. “Given that St. Joe’s is a good Catholic school, meaning no sacrilege, we’ve sometimes called them our own special ‘Holy Trinity.’
“Losing those three seniors will represent a significant hit for us next year, but the cupboard will not be exactly bare. In 2011, St. Joe’s hit what I call the mother lode of incoming freshman from St. Louis’ serious tennis players. We took 14 girls on last year’s varsity — seven of them were freshmen.
And they’re sophomores now.”
Is there another state title on the horizon?
“Looking at what Rock Bridge and Lafayette have coming back, next year will be a challenge for us,” Smith said. “Losing our senior trio will kick each of our girls up three positions higher than this year, which will make it tougher to win at the top end. Natalie Willis will be our only Senior, and she’ll be joined by those seven who will be juniors so we’ll still have excellent depth again.
“That said, next year might be a growth year which will set us up for another championship run in 2014 when that mother lode will be seniors and I hope will have become our ‘Magnificent Seven.’”