Franklin girls tennis defeats rival Center Grove

Rankings aren’t the only way to gauge the potential of a tennis match between two of the state’s better teams.

In the case of Franklin and Center Grove, the number nine is relevant. That’s how many players who took part in Tuesday’s match who were honored with All-District 5 recognition at the end of the 2023 season. Four were named first team All-State; two more were second-teamers.

Star power with a hint of topspin.

Girls tennis players from the two schools have been staring over the net at each other for nearly half a century. Yesterday’s intensity is today’s intensity, which will eventually give way to tomorrow’s intensity.

“I don’t even know if I have words, but that’s what we prepare for all season,” said Franklin junior Kate Pinnick, who pairs with senior Kennedy Urban to comprise the Grizzly Cubs’ top doubles tandem. “We’re always thinking about Center Grove. How can we beat them? Every practice, it’s like we’re preparing for Center Grove. We don’t play the toughest schedule, so Center Grove is probably one of our toughest matches.”

Historically speaking, the Trojans have built a decisive advantage, having celebrated 31 sectional titles to Franklin’s eight since the 1975-76 school year.

The Cubs, however, have prevailed the last two season and hope to make it three as their outstanding core of seniors plays with additional purpose at the end of their prep careers.

Tuesday’s potential postseason tuneup saw eighth-ranked Franklin blank No. 14 Center Grove, 5-0.

At No. 1 singles, Cubs’ senior Rylie Wilkison started strong and eventually fended off Lauren Dick’s comeback efforts for a 6-0, 6-4 win. Franklin sophomore Marnie Moore got past the Trojans’ Sloane Small, 6-2, 6-2, at the second singles spot.

Pinnick and Urban beat Center Grove seniors Anna Runkle and Ava Beecher, 6-4, 6-3, while teammates Meleah Murphy and Emma Sappenfield posted a 6-4, 6-1 victory over soph Kenna Harbin and junior Ashley Embrey at No. 2 doubles.

The final match to be completed was No. 3 singles, where Grizzly Cubs’ senior Chelsie Rayl held off CG’s Val Arriz, 6-3 (3), 3-6, 10-5.

The teams could again be on a collision course at the Center Grove Sectional, scheduled for May 14-18. Plenty of time for Franklin coach Rusty Hughes and Center Grove’s Debby Burton to tweak their respective lineups, if either feels the need.

“(Franklin) is definitely our biggest competitor, and every year we base our things on how we can beat them, and get past sectional,” Runkle said. “We definitely have to just stay positive through our matches. It was definitely a shock for Center Grove because usually we’re getting past our sectional, but (Franklin) has really been good these past couple of years and quickly became our toughest competitor.”

A third consecutive sectional championship would be a first in the history of Franklin girls tennis, but Hughes, who has been around long enough to know the challenges that await, isn’t looking ahead.

“Center Grove’s tradition in tennis is second to none,” Hughes said. “Debby is such a great coach, and she has a lot of people with a lot of tennis knowledge in the Center Grove community.

“How could you not respect them? They always make us a better team whether we win or they win, and that’s why I love playing them.”