It is never easy to repeat success, but when the 2016 Illinois High School Association girls tennis season began in August, Grace Desse and Morgan Colbert had no other goal.
With a 28-2 record, Southwestern Conference championship, sectional doubles crown, and a top-four seed at the IHSA finals, the Edwardsville tennis doubles duo finished ahead of its own expectations.
“We had a great time together and played so well together last season, that I wanted to do at least as well this year at the state finals,” Desse said. “If we had gone up and not played well that would have been disappointing because we had worked so hard and put so much time into this season.”
Desse and Colbert didn’t have to worry. After winning a pair of three-set marathons in the third and quarterfinal round, the Tigers pair reached the state tournament semifinals.
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“It was a great experience and one I’ll always remember and cherish,” Colbert said. “Me, being a senior, to be able to reach the state tournament semifinals was so gratifying because we had worked so long and so hard to get to that point. We lost the match, but we walked off the court knowing that we had given it our all. That’s all we could do.”
Colbert and Desse also lost the third-place match, but their finish helped Edwardsville to fifth in the team standings and earned the tandem Class AA Doubles Team of the Year.
Tigers coach David Lipe said this was part of the two-year plan.
“We had hoped that they would progress as time went on. They did that,” Lipe said. “Of their results, getting to the state finals and reaching the state semifinals and also going undefeated in the (Southwestern) Conference were two of their accomplishments. What really helped was the fact that they both liked playing doubles together and they enjoyed the entire process. They enjoyed being on the team.”
Colbert and Desse have similar but complementary styles, especially at the net.
“It is something we worked on a lot,” Desse said. “I think we both had the ability to play back, but we were both better when we were going forward and playing at the net. I think our games were similar, but different in that we both had different strengths.
“This was our second year of playing together and we also played a little bit in tournaments over the summer. We knew each other’s game very well.”
That knowledge came in handy at the state tournament in suburban Chicago earlier this fall. After running through their first two opponents in the opening day of the three-day event, Desse and Colbert were pushed to the limit.
After disposing of the eighth-seeded team from Barrington in their third round match, Desse and Colbert took on Michelle Capone and Amia Ross of (Winnetka) New Trier in the quarterfinal.
Capone and Ross had defeated the Edwardsville pair earlier in the season, but after dropping the first set to the fifth-seeded squad, Desse and Colbert won the next two sets 6-3, 6-0 to move into the final four.
“They had beaten us in straight sets earlier in the year and so we knew they were a really good team,” Colbert said. “I think the difference in this one is that we were able to focus more on our games and not worry about anything else that was going on on the side of the net.
“The feeling after we won that match was amazing because we had reached our seeds. To be in the state tournament semifinals and not only doing as well, but better than we did last year, made all the work worthwhile.”