The Highland High School girls tennis team capped off an historically successful regular season by capturing the program’s first Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament championship in years Friday and Saturday at Triad High School.
First on Monday, Oct. 2, Highland blanked Jerseyville 9-0 to finish the season with an outstanding 15-3 head-to-head record. Out of a total of 54 individual conference matches, the Lady Bulldogs won 52 of them after sweeping Mascoutah, Waterloo, Civic Memorial and Jerseyville 9-0 and besting Triad 7-2.
Next on Friday, Highland swept all all three flights of doubles competition at the MVC Tournament, led by the No. 1 team of senior Kirsten Plocher and sophomore Kate Feldmann. Also winning in doubles play were the No. 2 tandem of senior Mia Walters and sophomore Taylor Fleming, and the No. 3 pairing of senior Arianna Kampwerth and sophomore Ashley Basden.
Then on Saturday, Plocher captured first place in No. 1 singles while Feldmann won at No. 3 singles. In addition, Fleming finished second at No. 2 singles and Walters came in second at No. 4 singles.
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The tournament had to be completed on Monday at Nos. 5 and 6 singles which were postponed in the middle of the matches due to rain. No. 5 Kampwerth and sixth-seeded Basden were the two Highland players to finish their matches against their Triad counterparts on Monday, which was after the News Leader’s press time.
But no matter the outcomes of those matches, the Lady Bulldogs had already clinched the conference championship with 38 points. Upon the completion of those matches, Highland’s team point total would either rise to 46, 48 or 50 points.
Also no matter the outcomes of those individual matches, Triad finishes second in the team standings behind Highland.
“This was a special weekend for our program,” Highland coach Matt Pellock said. “For these girls who put in tremendous work since last season, to Kirsten (Plocher) and Arianna (Kampwerth) who have experienced four seasons of tough competition and know how difficult this conference has been. I cannot say enough of (assistant coach) Brenda’s (Plocher) work and dedication to these girls, which is why we have the great players we do. This is the first conference tennis championship for myself as well, making it an extra special one, and one I feel very fortunate to share with this team. They have been one of the best groups I have been involved with and completely deserving of this accomplishment.”
Kirsten Plocher said winning the conference crown has been a goal of hers since she was thrown into the one position as a sophomore and took her lumps as an underclassman competing at the top singles spot.
“I’m so glad that I’m finally able to say that our team has accomplished a conference championship, which a lot of past highland tennis teams could not account for,” Plocher said. “I’m proud of the way every single one of our girls played today, putting up a tough fight every match played these past few days. I know that my team and I were really trying to bring this one home for our coaches Matt Pellock and Brenda Plocher to reward them for all the hard work they dedicate to us and our team.”
In doubles play on Friday, Plocher and Feldmann had to play both Triad and Jerseyville to get first place at No. 1 doubles. Both of those wins came with a comeback at some point during the match. Against Triad, the HHS duo was down 4-5 in the second set and won the final three games, including some really tough points from won the by the Highland pair in the final game to ultimate score the 6-4, 7-5 win.
“Jerseyville played an unbelievable first two sets against us, taking the first set 6-3, and we played about as well as we could in the second set to win 6-4 and then 6-1 in the third,” Pellock said. “That was our third win against that team, and it is always tough to beat a team three times, and especially against a Jerseyville team that played better every time we saw them.”
In the second doubles draw, Fleming and Walters had an easy semifinal win and then played a strong match against Mascoutah to win 7-5, 6-2 and take the title.
In No 3 doubles, Basden and Kampwerth were the No. 2 seed and met Triad in the final. After losing the first set, the Highland twosome played very smart to hang on to a 6-4 second set win, and then played some of the best doubles of the season in the third set to take a 5-0 lead and win it 6-2.
Pellock said the conference title was a testament to a total team effort from the girls and really was a hard-fought two days.
“Triad, Jerseyville and Mascoutah all had girls that played better than we saw during the season,” he said. “The key was the first day and that we were able to win all three doubles flights. We really had four tight matches that first day and we were able to come up with all of them including two three-set matches in the 1 and 3 doubles finals. It was a big boost to start Saturday with an eight-point lead, and knowing we had a good chance to get to all finals in the singles competition.”
Pellock said Highland did some excellent work to play tough and manage some challenging wind during the most important tennis of the season.
Plocher got the straight-set win against Mascoutah in the semifinal, and then played Triad’s Meghan Dulaney in the final. Plocher’s last lost of the season was over three weeks ago to Dulaney, so this was a big match to avenge that loss and then also get a truly great accomplishment as the conference’s No. 1 singles champion.
It was another tough battle with Dulaney like the one they played during the dual match back on Sept. 14. But Plocher was able to manage the moment, and play tough tennis at the end of two close sets to pull out a well-earned 7-6, 6-4 triumph.
“She has played so many tough opponents in her career, and I know it made this conference championship for her feel extra sweet and very deserving,” Pellock said of Plocher.
In No. 2 singles, Fleming played Chelsea Maag from Jerseyville, and it was a battle of athletes going all out on every point. Regularly, they were playing some of the best points of the tournament, and Fleming came through with a huge win before going on to lose a tough final against Triad’s Caitlyn Smith that ended an incredible stretch of singles wins for Fleming.
Fleming won the championship in No. 3 singles after only giving up only a few games total in her two matches.
“It was a really impressive display from Kate, she was totally focused and in complete command of her game,” Pellock said.
Walters got through an over two-hour match in her semifinal vs Jerseyville to win 6-4, 6-3.
“When you encounter an opponent that can keep rallies going like Jerseyville did, it really is tough to get through that type of match, and was really proud of how Mia (Walters) got that big win for the team,” Pellock said.
Walters had another long match in the final where she finished finishing second to Mascoutah.
Highland next competes this weekend in the IHSA Class 1A Centralia Sectional.
Kirsten Plocher said the ultimate goal now would be to send everyone to state.
“I believe is a perfectly reasonable goal,” she said. “I had the time of my life at state with Elizabeth Meadows last year and I would love for the rest of my team to get to experience that kind of accomplishment due to their hard work.”