With Illinois High School Association sectional competition set for this weekend, the O’Fallon Panther girls’ tennis squad finished regular season play on the upswing with two shutout dual meet victories and a second place finish in the annual Southwestern Conference tournament.
Despite a stellar run through their schedule in 2016, the Lady Panthers will need every bullet in their arsenal when they square off against the likes of Edwardsville and Belleville East in the IHSA sectional hosted by the Lancers. Preliminary indications are that Coach Erin Thoman’s squad will challenge for inclusion in the IHSA state tournament field.
“Our girls have continued to improve throughout the season and are playing at a very high level as we enter the state series,” Thoman said. “We moved into the metro-east sectional field after several years of moving further east for sectional play. That will make it more difficult to advance, but I have confidence that our girls will be prepared to battle on the courts for every point.”
Points and victories came easily for the Lady Panthers as they wrapped up their regular season dual match schedule last week. The OTHS girls blasted their way to a pair of shutout victories. The first whitewash was a satisfying 9-0 romp over the Belleville West Maroons — a longtime thorn in the Panthers’ side in league play. This time, however, O’Fallon cruised through the singles and doubles matches with only a few tense moments.
Mackenzie Shelton and Miley Brunner turned in the most dominant singles wins — both defeating their Belleville West opponents in nearly flawless fashion — Shelton winning at No. 1 6-0 and 6-1 and Brunner shutting out Taylor Fiedler 6-0 and 6-0.
O’Fallon needed two three-set rallies to preserve the sweep. Katie Halwachs, playing number two singles, dropped her first set against Belleville’s Jillian Rosenkrantz 3-6 but drew even with a 6-1 triumph in set two. Halwachs stepped up her game considerably in the tie-breaker, streaking to an early point advantage and steam-rolling to a 10-0 win. The other marathon match occurred in number three doubles. The OTHS tandem of Mady Shreiber and Abbey Byrnside jumped on top with a 6-2 win over Taylor Fiedler and Isabel Papachrisanthou, but the Maroons rallied to take a 6-3 victory in the second set. With the match hanging in the balance, Shreiber and Byrnside gutted out a 10-8 win.
Alton Marquette was the next Lady Panther victim. The O’Fallon girls dominated singles play, winning all six matches while absorbing only five losses. Mackenzie Shelton and Kate Macaluso led the charge with straight set 6-0, 6-0 wins over their number one and number four opponents respectively. It was more of the same in doubles play. Macaluso and Miley Brunner teamed up to defeat Anne Tassinari and Abby Simonds 6-0 and 6-0. Mady Shreiber and Abbey Byrnside won 6-3 and 6-4 at number two, and Mackenzie Shelton and Emiley Fritz blasted Maria Wenoce and Katie Ventiomlia 6-1, 6-0.
The pair of shutouts were preambles to the weekend regular season finale — the Southwestern Conference tournament. The Edwardsville Tigers claimed the team crown with 71 points. O’Fallon and Belleville East tied for second — each squad collecting 59 points. Belleville West finished a distant fourth with 42 points.
The Lady Panthers, collectively, played well — just not well enough to catch the Tigers. The O’Fallon girls ended the tourney with five second place finishes. In singles play, Mady Shreiber earned wins over Granite City and Belleville East to advance to the finals against Grace Desse of Edwardsville, who took the top spot with a 6-2, 6-1 win. Other second place medals were collected by Miley Brunner at No. 4 and Kate Macaluso at No. 5.
In doubles play, Mackenzie Shelton and Katie Halwachs breezed past Collinsville in the No. 2 flight and outlasted Kriegshauser and Buschur of Belleville East in three sets to face Karibian and Cimarolli of Edwardsville. Still feeling the effects of their struggle against the Lancers, the OTHS tandem lost to the Tigers 6-1 and 6-0. Mady Shreiber and Abbey Byrnside also finished second, posting wins over Collinsville and Belleville East before falling to Edwardsville in the finals.
Third-place finishers for O’Fallon included Mackenzie Shelton (No. 1 singles), Katie Halwachs (No. 2 singles), Abbey Byrnside (No. 6 singles), and Miley Brunner/Kate Macaluso (No. 1 doubles).