Numbers don’t always tell the entire story when it comes to those playing No. 1 singles.
Center Grove junior Lauren Dick, who last spring assembled a 5-13 mark at the top of the Trojans’ lineup after playing No. 2 doubles the previous season, knows she has grown from the experience.
“I kind of had to change roles to where I was young, but still had to be a leader for the team,” Dick said. “Also, on the tennis side, I had to put everything out there because I was playing a lot of seniors who had been playing their whole lives.
“There were definitely difficult times, but I think I had my greatest growth in tennis because I was outside my comfort zone.”
Center Grove opens its season at Columbus North on April 4.
Coach Debby Burton’s squad is coming off a season in which it was ranked No. 19 in the final poll put together by the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association.
Individually, all three of Center Grove’s singles players — Dick, No. 2 player Ava Beecher and No. 3 starter Emerson Donaldson — were named All-District 5 and earned All-State honorable mention status. The trio returns this season, and are still underclassmen, as the Trojans work toward what they hope is the 32nd sectional championship in program history.
Dick’s high school career began abnormally, as she missed a handful of preseason practices and a scrimmage against Franklin Central as a freshman after being contact traced to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
She nonetheless worked her way into being paired with Hudson Gilstorf, then a junior, to comprise the Trojans’ second doubles duo.
That Center Grove team advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Park Tudor, 4-1.
Facing the opponent’s best player match in and match out can, at times, be humbling, particularly considering the unforgiving schedule Center Grove plays annually. As a result, Burton’s expectations regarding her No. 1 singles player don’t revolve around a won-loss record.
“Lauren wanting to play the style that she’s playing is good. Just her court intelligence, and knowing what to do in certain situations,” Burton said. “I think (No. 1 singles) is just a really tough position to play.
“And sometimes, the second year playing it is tougher than the first. You have to kind of go into it one match at a time.”
During the offseason, Dick did her best to compete in no fewer than two tournaments a month in such Midwestern locales as Louisville, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids or here in her home state.
As often happens, improving her overall skill set also built up her self-esteem.
“I’m really going into this season knowing I have a chance to win, and believing I can win,” Dick said. “I want to really focus on getting into the match, and have a lot of confidence because I’ve put in the work and played a lot of great opponents in tournaments last summer.
“I was able to win a lot of matches I probably wouldn’t have won the year before.”
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Debby Burton
Key returnees: Ava Beecher, Lauren Dick, Anna Runkle and Peri Small, juniors; Emerson Donaldson, sophomore
Top newcomers: Val Arriz, Aliyeh Boyer, Zoe Carpenter and Paisley Carter, sophomores; Sloane Small, freshman
Outlook: The Trojans bring back five of seven starters from last season, including all three singles players in Dick, Beecher and Donaldson. Runkle was half the No. 1 doubles tandem, while Peri Small competed at 2 doubles. There are two seniors on the team (Claire Reckert and Lily Sawyer) who, along with the junior starters, will be expected to lead the Trojans.
“I feel like my junior girls are great leaders, and our two seniors are great leaders,” Burton said. “The girls have been working hard over the last nine months. They have been on the courts getting instruction and playing tournaments.
“I could not have asked for more effort. Our goal is to remain a top 25 team, and be the best team we can be when the state tournament begins.
Coach: Rachel O’Brien
Key returnees: Gracie Myers and Jillian Turner, seniors; Izzy Richardson, Zoey Sida, Lily Turner and Jessica Walsh, juniors; Mia Dodson, sophomore
Top newcomers: Gracie Lawson and Bella Turner, freshmen
Outlook: “This season, we are focused on building off what we accomplished last year. We have been in the weight room, we have been working on improving our footwork, hand-eye coordination drills and drills that work on endurance,” O’Brien said. “Last year, we had a winning record, captured a share of the Mid-Hoosier Conference championship, won against many competitive teams, relied on each other, cheered each other on, and all of that combined builds a lot of confidence on and off the tennis court.
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coach: Rusty Hughes
Key returnees: Ailyn Hendricks, Mallory Luse, Ava Pinnick and Emma Williams, seniors; Chelsie Rayl, Emma Sappenfield, Kennedy Urban and Rylie Wilkison, juniors; Maleah Murphy and Kate Pinnick, sophomores
Top newcomer: Marine Moore, freshman
Outlook: The Grizzly Cubs manufactured one of their best seasons by winning their first sectional and regional titles in 13 years. Led by No. 1 singles player Wilkison, the reigning Daily Journal Player of the Year with a 23-1 record, Franklin made it all the way to the semistate title match before losing a 3-2 decision to Oldenburg Academy.
Also returning are Rayl and Williams, All-County selections after excelling at second and third singles, respectively, as well as three doubles starters (Hendricks, Urban and Sappenfield).
“We have only had one good practice (last) week due to the weather, so we still have a lot to figure out on the lineup,” Hughes said. “Our goals are to win the Mid-State Conference, get a top 10 ranking and be playing our best tennis at sectional time.”
Coach: Maecee Terhune
Key returnees: Audrey Poynter and Ava Stein, seniors; Maggie Boyce, Ava Gardner, Brooklyn Hanson, Savannah McCauley and Lesley Rodriguez, juniors.
Top newcomers: Gracie Gasaway, junior; Moriah Ellington, freshman
Outlook: “This season, we will have a lot of younger players, so we are hoping to see improvement all season,” Terhune said. “We lost three of our varsity players from last year, so we will be rebuilding and introducing new players in our lineup. As the season starts, our goal is to compete with the teams on our schedule. I am excited to see our team continue to grow with the new players we have this year. I have high hopes for the team to continue to improve on ball placement and consistency.”
Indian Creek Braves
Coach: Mike Perry
Key returnees: Alli Gault, Kylie Lemmon, Lauren Lewis, Olivia Perry and Addy Tunell, seniors; Lanie Swanson, junior; Alaina Perry, sophomore
Top newcomers: Alexa Sichting, Lilly Swanson, Eliza Tharpe, Reese Tunell and Gracie Werden, freshmen
Outlook: “This will be a very interesting year after losing four of our key varsity players. We have a lot to sort out, and a short time to figure out where everyone fits into our lineup,” coach Perry said. “We are fortunate to have good numbers with five experienced seniors, a large number of talented freshmen and a couple of other good players in between who will all be battling it out to earn a varsity position.
“Regardless of who ends up where in our lineup, I am expecting to have a lot of fun with this group and watching them push each other all year long.”
Coach: Mike Gillespie
Key returnees: Ella Proctor and Sara Ullrich, seniors; Cathy Nguyen, Kinsey Shipp and Candace Stephenson, juniors
Top newcomers: Supreet Fahqra, senior; Karley Hoagland and Namjeet Kaur, juniors; Saphira Brown and Rowen Starns, sophomores
Outlook: The Warriors, third-place finishers in the Mid-State Conference last season, bring back four players who netted winning records — Stephenson at No. 2 singles, Proctor at No. 3 singles and Shipp and Nguyen at the second doubles spot.
“We look forward to having a great season,” Gillespie said. “We will have a bunch of fun, compete like crazy and be good people. We have a lot of hard-working girls who get along pretty well.”