Center Grove, Franklin advance to girls tennis final

Center Grove and Franklin have had their sights set on one another for quite some time, knowing that their paths were almost certain to cross at some point during the sectional.

Before their much-anticipated rematch could be officially booked for today, both teams had semifinal opponents to concern themselves with on Thursday afternoon. Those concerns, though, proved to be minimal as each rolled to a 5-0 victory — the 14th-ranked Trojans over Indian Creek and the No. 8 Grizzly Cubs against Greenwood.

Despite the built-up anticipation regarding today’s rivalry rematch — Franklin beat the Trojans, 5-0, on April 18 — both teams were locked in on the task at hand Thursday.

“I think they did a good job,” Center Grove coach Debby Burton said of her team. “It’s a different style of play, and I think we did a good job of taking care of the ball and moving around and adjusting to that style.”

The host Trojans got their first point from Emerson Donaldson, a 6-0, 6-0 winner over the Braves’ Kylie Lemmon at No. 3 singles. Sloane Small walked off the court minutes later after beating Reese Tunell by the same score at No. 2. Center Grove clinched its spot in the final when Ava Beecher and Lauren Dick completed their No. 1 doubles victory over Olivia Perry and Addy Tunell, also by a 6-0, 6-0 count.

The pair of Anna Runkle and Peri Small earned a 6-4, 6-1 triumph over Alexa Sichting and Alaina Swanson at second doubles, and Val Arriz put the finishing touches on a quick match by topping Lauren Lewis at No. 1 singles, 6-2, 6-2.

The Grizzly Cubs put their three necessary points on the board almost simultaneously. Ailyn Hendricks and Marnie Moore posted a 6-0, 6-0 win over the Greenwood duo of Savannah McCauley and Ava Stein at No. 1 doubles; within seconds, Rylie Wilkison and Emma Williams had also finished off 6-0, 6-0 victories at first and third singles, defeating Margaret Boyce and Moriah Ellington, respectively.

Chelsie Rayl defeated Brooklyn Hanson at No. 2 singles, 6-0, 6-0; Kennedy Urban and Kate Pinnick were a 6-0, 6-2 winner over Gracie Gasaway and Audrey Poynter at second doubles.

With the semifinals in the rear view, Center Grove and Franklin can now place their full attention on one another — instead of just most of it.

“We were obviously focused on this one, but we were mostly looking forward to tomorrow,” Williams said. “We’ve been looking forward to it since the last time we played them.”

After losing to the Grizzly Cubs last month, Burton made some lineup changes that she hopes will give the Trojans a better chance the second time around. Dick moved from first singles, with Donaldson sliding into the singles lineup.

“We talked about what our goal was,” Burton said. “I talked to eight girls and I said, ‘Somebody’s not going to be in, people are not going to play where they want to play, so you have to decide if we’re in this as a team … or if we’re going after our individual experience.

“We’re all in, and we’ve worked with it and we’re growing, and we’ve gotten better and we’ve competed really well with this.”

Franklin’s 2022 ended in the semistate. With all but one player back from last year’s lineup, the Grizzly Cubs have their sights set on a state appearance this time around — but they’re not getting ahead of themselves.

“We obviously do want to take that next step, but we realize we can’t get there without getting through sectionals,” Williams said. “So we’re going to continue to just look to that before we look beyond that.”