Unbeaten Catholic takes district team tennis title

Who’s playing No. 1 today? Anna Rader, Emily Kroutil or Cecelia Bailey?

Springfield Catholic senior Emily Kroutil returns a shot backhanded during Catholic's 5-2 district championship win over Helias Catholic on Sept. 28, 2016.

Springfield Catholic senior Emily Kroutil returns a shot backhanded during Catholic’s 5-2 district championship win over Helias Catholic on Sept. 28, 2016.

It doesn’t seem to matter for the tennis team at Springfield Catholic, which defeated Helias Catholic on Wednesday to improve to 16-0 and win the Class 1 District 9 championship. Rader, a two-time all-state singles player, played in the No. 1 singles spot and defeated Helias’ Abby Dowden 6-0, 6-0, and Catholic won the duel 5-2.

Rader and Casey Lee won in No. 1 doubles 8-2, Kroutil and Bailey won in No. 2 doubles 8-5, and Rader, Kroutil and Lee all picked up singles wins for the five points needed to move on to sectionals.

“We didn’t even think we’d be undefeated this season,” Kroutil said. “We would love to go to team state. That would be the first time in — I don’t even know how long — but that would be really awesome.”

Catholic’s lineup has fluctuated some this season, with three different players competing as the No. 1 singles player at one point or another. Rader, a junior and the consensus No. 1 for the past two seasons, started off at No. 2 while rehabilitating a shoulder injury.

“I took off most of the summer to let it heal some and started again right when the season started. It took me a while to adjust back to playing again,” Rader said. “I feel like it’s not affecting my play, and I’m playing well.”

Kroutil, who finished fifth in singles at the 2015 state tournament, played No. 1 to start the season with Rader at No. 2. Coach Martin Ver Steeg even held both of his all-staters out of the lineup for some matches to put Bailey at No. 1.

“It’s different for all of us, but (Kroutil) got to play some of the tougher competition, which was awesome,” Rader said. “It was different for our team, but we’re fine.”

The Irish seem to have settled in with a lineup of Rader, Kroutil, Bailey, Lee, Ashley Andrews and Maggie Meek, in that order. Rader plays doubles with Lee, while Kroutil partners with Bailey.

“The lineup, we think, is just working out really well for what we’re doing for districts,” Kroutil said.

Kroutil played with an edge in her 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Helias’ Megan Oliver. The senior doesn’t talk to herself on the court as she was wont to do as an underclassman.

“I’ve worked on my mental game, not letting people get in my head and not letting me losing points affect my game,” Kroutil said. “I feel like I’m playing more aggressive than I have, especially in doubles at the net.”

Rader has also added some power and pace to her game since taking fourth place at the state singles tournament in 2015.

“Physical therapy this summer helped me with strengthening and getting more power behind my shots,” Rader said.

Catholic advances to the sectional playoffs and will play Rogersville, winners over Willow Springs for the Class 1 District 10 championship. Mt. Vernon is part of the same sectional quartet thanks to its 5-2 win over Thomas Jefferson for the Class 1 District 11 title in Joplin.

In Class 2 tennis, Glendale defeated Ozark and Central defeated Kickapoo in Wednesday’s district championships to advance to the sectional round on Oct. 8.