NAPPANEE – In recent years, when thinking about the powerhouse girls tennis clubs in the Northern Lakes Conference, immediately most would point to Concord, Plymouth and Warsaw, the three teams with a combined 66 sectional championships to its credit. Northridge also has had their share of moments and Elkhart Memorial had one of the top players in the state for four years in Krystal Grubb.
Not much was said about what was brewing in Nappanee, but that could all change this season.
In the middle of what should be a loaded Lady Panthers roster is Reegan Miller, who returns for her fourth season of varsity service in what will be a highly experienced varsity seven.
Miller has worked her way up the ladder, playing all three singles positions in her three years coming into the 2019 season. As a freshman, Miller was 12-11 at three singles that had her take fifth in the NLC tourney. Miller then moved up to two singles as a sophomore and finished 15-6, taking fourth in the NLC tourney and helped NorthWood to a sectional championship.
Junior year saw Miller really elevate herself and her game, working both one and two singles courts en route to a 19-6 record, including third place at one singles in the NLC tourney and earning the most singles wins in the program. Miller was a NLC All-Conference selection and All-State Honorable Mention, and helped guide NorthWood to another sectional champion jumping down to two singles with the return of Alex Jesse from injury.
Miller doesn’t feel there’s much difference in holding one court over the other, it’s all just tennis.
“I felt like my sophomore year I really was playing well and I could compete at the varsity level,” Miller said. “We had a really good lineup last year, and being at two singles for the sectional, I knew that my season keeps going only if the team wins. So that motivated me to play well and to do my part, and hope that my teammates could also play well. We won the sectional, which was exciting, and we feel like we can make a run at it again this year.”
Her play at two singles, where she was 7-1 last season, is likely where she will start this season with a healthy Jesse ready to resume her spot at one singles. Miller’s losses last season at one singles all came against seniors now currently playing in college in Morgan Mast twice (Grace), Maya Klopfenstein twice (Calvin), and Liza Lewis (Marian). Her only two singles loss came against Concord’s Regan Landis in the regional final, where NorthWood’s season came to a halt.
Miller has also been a role model in the classroom, earning Team Academic All-State three times as well as being a three-time Scholar Athlete at NorthWood. She also holds team awards for Most Improved and Mental Attitude.
“I’m very invested in my academics as well as tennis,” Miller said. “I want to do well in class, and take it very serious. In the offseason for tennis, I just keep playing in tournaments and practicing. I keeps me prepared for the season.”
Jesse, Miller and Gretchen Adams all return as singles options for coach Tif Schwartz’s Panthers. Jesse, a junior, and Adams, a senior who is signed with Grace College to continue her tennis career, were the singles stars a season ago. While NorthWood lost its one doubles duo of Kennedy Wiens and Betsy Nunemaker to graduation, it brings back its two doubles group of junior Lauren Mikel and senior Riley Graber.
Schwartz said the options are endless with her roster, which also has players like junior Caroline Mullet and sophomores Kate Stillson and Paige Henschen in the early mix to make the jump to varsity and impact depending on how she wants to pencil in lineups in the early going.
“When you lose that number one doubles team, it does make it a little tough because you lose that good chemistry at the top,” Schwartz said. “But the good thing for us is that we have the other five still here. We have a lot of options of what we can do. With Alex and Reegan battling for that top singles spot, we can probably move some people around if need be. Challenge matches once the weather gets a little more consistent will tell us who lands where. But I feel really good about what we have coming in.”
NorthWood is scheduled to start its season Thursday at home in its new tennis complex against Elkhart Central. The team then comes back from Spring Break to host Fairfield on April 9. Two notes to the 2019 NorthWood schedule include the addition of Penn in a home match the Monday before sectionals, then NorthWood will host the sectional for the first time in more than a generation.