By Mike Deak
WARSAW – Girls tennis in the area was set to have some great competition unfold this spring. The Northern Lakes Conference, in particular, was primed to have a very competitive season and three of the area’s programs were ready to be among the contenders.
NorthWood was locked and loaded to push for an NLC title, ready to unseat Concord atop the standings with a core of senior returners in place. Alex Jesse, Lauren Mikel, Caroline Mullet and Kate Stillson were all returning with full varsity experience, Jesse ready to command the No. 1 singles role. Paige Henschen was also looking to get into the regular varsity mix to give NorthWood five major returners in place. The Panthers fell to Concord in the regional a season ago, unable to beat Concord during the season.
Warsaw was reloading and had kids coming in the pipeline. Much like five years ago when the team brought up four freshmen who all started varsity, the Tigers were in hopes of doing that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, senior Alyssa Zellers was set to maintain the No. 1 singles spot.
Wawasee also had some key returners set to come back, including two-year varsity starter Liz Kleopfer in singles.
Tippecanoe Valley didn’t have a senior set to return, but got to see the fruits of persistent work blossom last season. Doubles partners Tiphanie Hodge and Makenna Bradley set a school record with 15 doubles wins to pace the team, however, both graduated. The Vikings were expecting to return the rest of its roster, including the doubles team of Kaitlin Neese and Haley Brown which were set to step into the top doubles slot.
Triton did not have a senior in line to return to an already young squad. The team also saw the retirement of coach Al Peckham in the offseason, and were looking to reassemble its program, one that has competed and won multiple Hoosier North Athletic Conference titles in the past decade.
Alyssa Zellers, Warsaw: “I was staying sharp by going outside and playing with some of the girls on the team at the high school courts. I also would run the trails. If we would of had season I would have gave it my all just like all the other seasons before. I feel that we as a community will be stronger. When I was told that the school was going to be canceled only with season I was sad. I kind of felt like that would happen. It’s okay tho because I wouldn’t want to have anyone get sick.”
Elizabeth Kleopfer, Wawasee: “There are no words to describe how heartbroken I am for my senior classmates and I. We were told we will still receive a letter for our 2020 spring athletic career, but in reality, none of us cared about that letter. We were looking forward to the bus rides, practices, and memories we were going to make with our team. Some of my best high school memories are laughing on the bus rides home after a big win or playing a game at practice after a week of matches. That is something that we cannot get back by just receiving our letters.”
Alex Jesse, NorthWood: “I’ve been adapting my game to play power with some of the big hitters, but I’m also comfortable hitting with players who don’t want to crush everything. I believed in us and really thought we could win sectionals. Obviously, that was our goal was to keep that streak going (three in a row through 2019). Last season taught us that there is always room to improve. When you lose to a team three years in a row, you need to start learning from what they are doing and adapt. That was a driving force for us to work on throughout the year.”