Ready or not, the two-class system in Illinois high school tennis is about to begin.
Southwestern Conference champion and perennial state power Edwardsville headlines a deep and talented group of teams that will compete in the Class 2A Belleville East Girls Tennis Sectional on Friday beginning at 1 p.m.
The lone Class 2A event in southern Illinois, the Belleville East Sectional will also include strong teams such as O’Fallon, Belleville East and Belleville West from the Southwestern Conference along with Springfield and Chatham-Glenwood from central Illinois, all of which will be competing for a total of 12 bids — four singles players and four doubles combinations — into the IHSA Class 2A Girls State Tennis Tournament which begins on Oct. 20 at sites throughout suburban Chicago.
Granite City, Collinsville and Alton round out the field at Belleville East. The semifinals and finals will be held on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.
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Two Class 1A sectionals — hosted by Herrin and Triad — are being held this weekend. Waterloo and Gibault are competing at Herrin while most of the other top small school programs including Triad, Althoff, Mascoutah and Highland are competing at the Triad Sectional which begins at 1 p.m. on Friday.
Like anything, the new two-class system has triggered different responses on several front. One thing is for sure with the addition of Edwardsville, Alton, Granite City and Collinsville into one sectional with Belleville East, Belleville West and O’Fallon, will make for exciting and more competitive second and third round matches on Friday.
“What is the word I’m looking for here? This was always one of the toughest sectionals around and now when you add Edwardsville, Chatham (Glenwood) and Springfield in here, it’s unbelievable,” Belleville East coach Ross Peters said. “I can understand that the IHSA wants to give more kids a chance of getting to the state tournament. But as far as quality of the level of play. it’s going to hurt. About 75 percent of tennis players come from big schools and while I don’t think it will have an affect on the best players, the average players who come out, love the game and work hard hoping to get a chance to get to the state tournament, may not come out for as much any more because the opportunities to get to state aren’t as great any longer.”
Edwardsville, which swept to the title in the rugged SWC last week grabbed two of the top four seeds. In doubles, highly touted Morgan Colbert and Grace Desse of Edwardsville have grabbed the top seed, while the Belleville East tandem of Chloe McIsaac and Isabel Burwitz have been awarded the No. 2 seed. McIsaac won the SWC singles title last week.
In singles, O’Fallon senior MacKenzie Shelton is the top seed, while Edwardsville sophomore Natalie Karibian is the No. 2 seed.
Class A Triad Sectional
Althoff had the top seeds in doubles and Triad has the best singles player in the draw as the Crusaders and Knights are expected to battle for the team title.
In his first season as the girls coach at Althoff, Brian Zaron has a top doubles team in seniors Emma Melichar and Madelyn Skinner and one that has the ability advance a long way in the first ever Class A State Tournament.
“We’re excited for both Madelyn and Emma and feel they have an excellent opportunity to play in the state tournament next week,” Zaron said. “I like the two Class system because I think it will help us but I must say that I was in Class AA, I wouldn’t care much at all for it. The (Belleville East) sectional is very strong.”
Triad senior Kylie McCarthy is the top seed in singles at Triad.