The Highland High School girls tennis team’s season brought some swings of highs and some lows, but coach Matt Pellock said he was proud of the way the group finished up the year.
After a 6-7 dual-match record in the regular season and a fourth-place finish in the Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament, the Lady Bulldogs finished fourth in the 10-team IHSA Alton Sectional
“That was a very respectable result for us,” Pellock said. “That finish is tough without a team reaching a semifinal, which means we had a lot of total wins as a group. We would reach three out of four possible quarterfinals and we had strong performances in those matches and the matches leading up to those quarterfinals.”
As the fifth seed in singles, Kirsten Plocher had a bye in the first round and Emily Gutzler had a bye as she was drawn in the same quarter as Edwardsville’s number 1 player, senior Callaghan Adams.
Gutzler scored a big 6-2, 6-1 win in her second round match, giving her the opportunity to play a state-qualifier match. She would lose 0-6, 0-6 to Edwardsville which was not a bad loss considering Adams of Edwardsville did not lose a single game the entire tournament.
Plocher had a tough second-round match up against the Greenville number 1, Sarah Siefken, but Plocher cruised to a 6-0, 5-1 lead. She would struggle some to find her game to close the match but ended with some confident, smart tennis once again to win a tough three-setter by scores of 6-0, 5-7, 6-4.
Plocher would get her matchup with the No. 3 seed of Shelby Jones from Alton Marquette, a match she won no games in earlier in the season.
“Plocher has improved her game a lot in that time and was very competitive in much of the match,” Pellock said. “She put a lot of extra pressure on Jones in the second set by being more aggressive on points and that actually turned out to be a nice strategy. The result was a 2-6 4-6 loss, but I think she was able to find some real belief that wasn’t always there this season. She was able to prove in one tournament that she is right with these number 1 players as a very capable and talented player. That’s an exciting reality when she has two more years of tennis here.”
With Elisabeth Meadows being Plocher’s doubles partner during the season and having Plocher represent our 1 singles spot, Meadows joined with Anjuli Kampwerth as the No. 2 doubles team in the sectional. They had a quick match against Metro-East Lutheran, only losing one game, 6-1, 6-0.
They next faced the No. 4 doubles seed in Alton Marquette and lost in straight sets.
“Certainly not an easy match but in a sectional you eventually find a tough opponent,” Pellock said. “The two had nice seasons for the team and will have a big impact once again next season.”
The journey of the tournament definitely came at No. 1 doubles from the pairing of Stephanie Olivares and Liz Arend, who were a tough No. 2 doubles team during the entire season and especially the last two weeks of the year. The duo almost won the conference tournament against a Mascoutah team that was actually the Indians’ No. doubles the first half of the year.
Olivares and Arend even won 15 games in a row during the stretch to start off the conference tournament. In the sectional, the Highland tandem defeated Greenville in the first round before facing off against returning state qualifiers Georgia Ballard and Anna Ballard of Roxana, who were the No. 3 seed in the sectional and a team that HHS’ No. 1 doubles struggled against twice in the season.
But this would be a better match up for Olivares and Arend because they could handle their power and made them go for a lot of shots and resulted in many errors from Roxana, amazingly earning the 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 win. Because Highland was not seeded, Olivares and Arend had one more match to play against number 5 Jerseyville. This was another team the HHS duo played twice in the season at 1 doubles and could not get the win. And this Jerseyville team had a great conference tournament as well, finishing second at No. 1 doubles.
Olivares and Arend were the more consistent team and Jerseyville could not handle their service games so one break of serve was all it took to win 6-4 the first set. The consistency was hard to continue going into the second set and some of the fatigue of the day I believe was showing and the Highland duo lost 3-6 in the second set.
“What’s pretty incredible is that Stephanie had suffered two rolled ankles from the week before and somehow was able to play five hours of doubles,” Pellock said. “Some tough deuce games that didn’t go our way to start the third set created a 1-4 gap in the third that Liz and Stephanie were able to close to get to 3-4, but Jerseyville got the service break and hold to win in three sets. A great tournament for us at1 doubles, and they confirmed my thought that they could be the scary doubles team against some teams that were feeling the pressure instead of us. Great way to see Stephanie and Liz cap off their careers and definitely proved they were a state-caliber doubles team.”