Franklin, Center Grove advance at tennis sectional

Whiteland girls tennis coach Mike Gillespie knew playing Center Grove would be an uphill challenge and he was right, of course.

“When you play tennis in central Indiana, this is the Mecca of the southside,” Gillespie said. “All five of the teams in the sectional are strong, but Center Grove is the strongest typically. I love the opportunity to play them. I thought our girls battled, but they were a little better than us.”

Eighth-ranked Center Grove shut out No. 23 Whiteland 5-0 in the Center Grove Sectional semifinals. The Warriors finished 16-5. Franklin, ranked No. 19, defeated Indian Creek 5-0 in other semifinal Thursday to set up a rematch in today’s 4:30 p.m. championship. Center Grove beat the Grizzly Cubs in the county championship match 4-1 earlier in the season, with Franklin winning at No. 1 doubles.

“They’re a really good team; they’re ranked in the top 10 for a good reason,” Grizzly Cubs coach Rusty Hughes said. “We have to bring our best. If we play as well as we can, we’ll do okay. But we have to play well.”

The Grizzly Cubs (18-2) have three freshmen in their lineup, including Rylie Wilkison, who dropped only one game in beating Braves freshman Lauren Foster.

Franklin sophomore Ailyn Hendricks lost just one game in each set in her victory over Zoe Rayback.

Sophomore Emma Williams didn’t drop a game in topping Lauren Lewis. The No. 1 doubles team of Chelsie Rayl and Haylie Rayl also won 6-3, 6-0 against Olivia Perry and Emilee Scott. Franklin’s No. 2 doubles team of Haley Haldeman and Emma Sappenfield beat Avery Burress and Addy Tunell 6-2, 6-1.

The Braves, who didn’t have a senior in their lineup, finished 10-7. Considering he had three just three girls who had played high school tennis before the season, Indian Creek coach Mike Perry said he was proud of the progress.

“It’s very encouraging going into next season,” said Perry said. “They exceeded our expectations of what we thought we’d do this year.”

Hughes said some of his players played better than others Thursday.

“We played hard. That’s what I wanted to see,” Hughes said.

Trojans coach Debby Burton liked what she saw, too, from her players.

“They were focused,” Burton said. “They took care of business. We had a few mistakes here and there. I liked our attitude. I liked our effort.”

Center Grove senior No. 1 singles player Ashlee Fisk and senior No. 2 singles player Sonya Vyas each didn’t lose a game. Fisk topped Sarah Scott and Vyas defeated Candace Stephenson.

Sydney Plowman and Sapna Vyas downed Molly Brosnan and Natalie Cloer 6-1, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles. At No. 2 doubles, Center Grove’s duo of Lauren Dick and Hudson Gilstorf were 6-0, 6-3 winners over Brooke Boehnlein and Kaylee Hoagland.

Freshman Deepthi Shankar dropped just two games, both in the second set, against Sara Ullrich at No. 3 singles.

“We want to make it to state,” Shankar said. “We want to get as far as we can.”

The Trojans are seeking their sixth consecutive sectional title and 31st overall. There was no girls tennis season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The way I look at it each match, we have to be really focused and ready to go,” Burton said. “We’re coming out ready to play just as if it was the state championship. I feel like everyone has improved. It’s been a pleasant, fun season and we’re excited to carry on and move forward in the tournament like we’ve done in the past.”