The Highland High School girls tennis team returns the bulk of its starters from a solid team a year ago, including senior Kirsten Plocher, who returns to be the team’s top player for the third year in a row.
In addition to Plocher, the Lady Bulldogs boast the following key returners: sophomore Kate Feldmann, sophomore Taylor Fleming, senior Ariana Kampwerth, sophomore Ashley Basden, and senior Mia Walters, whom were all a part of the varsity lineup last season.
“We have a lot of our starting lineup from last year back, which is very exciting because those girls had an excellent season last year,” said Highland coach Matt Pellock. “It has been a while since we have had both experience at our top spot paired with the depth of athleticism and ability down the lineup that these girls have.”
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He said the biggest strength of this group is that they always compete.
“We have a whole lineup of girls who embrace competition and give tremendous effort every time they step on the court,” Pellock said. “Add the drive they have with some nice ability to back it up and that should make us tough to beat.”
Plocher and Kampwerth are the team’s most experienced players. Pellock said he has no doubt that the duo will be very determined to finish their senior season with as much winning tennis as possible.
Plocher qualified for the IHSA Class A Girls State Tennis Tournament last year as part of a doubles tandem that included then-senior Elisabeth Meadows. The pair had a good showing at state after winning two matches.
“I am so excited for this year’s tennis season because I know we will be very competitive in our conference all around,” Plocher said. “I’m excited to see what this year brings and hoping to get another bid to Chicago. I will definitely be hoping for state again but I’m just going to enjoy competing for my team this year.”
Pellock siad the team is very fortunate to have Plocher leading the team again.
“She has been a huge part of our program her entire career, and we could not have a better role model and leader for our young players,’ Pellock said of Plocher. “She has played many excellent players over the seasons and gained an incredible amount of experience.”
Some changes for Plocher this season will be that she has played many of the same players the last two seasons who have now graduated, which leaves many teams in the area with new faces at the top of their lineup for Plocher to face.
“I think along with the perspective she has from playing the one position, the fact that she will be facing new players should allow her some extra confidence as she competes against them, in singles especially,” Pellock said.
The most significant change for Plocher may be switching doubles partners, which will really be for the first time in her high school career after Meadows graduated. She and Meadows had quite a run as a doubles team and achieved their ultimate goal of a state qualification last season.
“She enjoyed playing with Elisabeth (Meadows), but I know she is looking forward to a new partner that will bring a different element to their game,” Pellock said.
Plocher believes that she will be paired with Feldmann this season.
“I can’t wait for that because we have so much fun and we have so much room for improvement,” Plocher said of her and Feldmann.
Plocher’s mom, Brenda Plocher, is the assistant coach who returns for her second season after working with the girls this summer in the second year of HHS’ summer tennis program.
“She really enables our program to hold a large group of players while keeping practices efficient with constant improvement,” Pellock said of Brenda Plocher. “She is very interactive with the girls which keeps them interested in drills and playing at a high level during practice. Her dedication and assistance to this program has been a great blessing.”
Mallory LaFrance and Destany Morland are returning seniors who were in our tournament lineup last season.
“They could become more integral in our lineup and will be facing tough competition within our lineup once again,” Pellock said.
The other returners are only second-year players, but Pellock said they all had incredible first years with tons of fast improvement and they got a good amount of court time this summer, so they should be feeling like an experienced group as they start the season.
“I think Mia (Walters) and Taylor (Fleming) will be excited to have more of an opportunity to fill roles in singles, as they were both fixtures in doubles for us last year,” he said. “Likewise for Ashley (Basden) and Ariana (Kampwerth), who had terrific seasons at 5 and 6 singles, and will now be competing to land a doubles spot.”
Madison Clarke and MacKenzie Myer return and will also be competing for varsity and tournament team positions. Pellock said he was really pleased with their effort this summer and he thinks that will pay off for them this fall.
Highland also has another exceptional turn out of new players, and many talented freshmen athletes, which includes Abby Bowers, Brianna Helm, Sydney Basler, Hannah Geest, Jenna Fenton, and Sydney Parkerson.
“These girls were diligent participants in the summer tennis camps and programs, and they are hitting very well as they begin their HHS tennis careers,” Pellock said. “I have been very impressed with this group so far as they have been consistently hitting all summer, and always show great focus and effort on the court.”
Two other nice, new additions to the team are Payton Wernle and Kayla Rutz.
A big advantage the team had leading up to this season was a full summer on the new courts, where as last year the courts were finished just in time for the girls season.
“We had great numbers in our camps and programs and I know our young and advanced players enjoyed being out there on such a fantastic facility,” Pellock said.
Due in large part to the new state-of-the-art facility, Highland will be a site host for the Edwardsville tournaments that the team has been a part of for years, and that will keep the Lady Bulldogs at home and bring new players and teams to their home courts.
And now with lights installed for this fall, HHS will not have to shorten match formats as the season goes on, giving the team more match experience late in the season when they need it the most.