FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind.
Since Lexi Stamper’s freshman year with the Centerville girls tennis team, facing Northeastern has always been a big deal.
That’s because when the two teams meet, the top spot in the Tri-Eastern Conference is at stake.
No difference this year.
And thanks to the mental toughness from Stamper, the result was the same.
For a third straight year, Centerville defeated Northeastern to complete a 7-0 TEC regular season, putting the Bulldogs in a good position for this weekend’s league tournament at Winchester.
Shelby Minhinnett and Stamper won singles matches and the Bulldogs swept doubles play to post a 4-1 victory.
“It’s always a big match,” said Stamper, the first off the courts for the Bulldogs after a 6-4, 6-0 win at No. 3 singles. “They’re usually the best school that we play, so (Centerville coach Randy Ecker) stresses it. They’ve always been good, ever since I was a freshman, so they’ve always stressed this match.”
Stamper held an early 4-0 lead in the first set, before Northeastern’s Sarah Hester got within 4-3. Stamper eventually pulled out the victory, before sweeping the second set.
“It was a really difficult match,” Stamper said. “I’ve struggled keeping my mental attitude up, and I thought it was going to be a tough game today. But after I got my head into it, it turned out to be good.”
Minhinnett won 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles; Merissa Ross and Jordan VanWinkle shrugged off a loss in the first set to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 doubles; and Shelby Good and Lizzy Walther won 6-4, 6-0 at No. 2.
“We knew we’d have to play well because they have a good team,” Ecker said. “Especially playing at their place, the wind’s always a factor. In tennis, sometimes they can let outside factors get in your head, but I was proud of the way they came out.”
Centerville has at least a share of four straight TEC titles, winning the championship outright in 2010 and 2011 and sharing the overall title with Northeastern in 2012 and 2013.
The TEC tournament starts Saturday at Winchester, with the final round scheduled for Monday.
The Bulldogs are now 12-1 with the only loss coming to state-ranked Richmond. Stamper and Minhinnett are both 18-4, 7-0 in the TEC, and both have the No. 1 seed for Saturday’s opening round. No. 1 singles player Brittany Jones is 17-5, 6-1 in TEC play and will be seeded second.
“We just have to finish. If we can win it all on Monday, then it’s ours. But if not, we take second, then we’ll share,” Ecker said. ” … Overall, I thought that we played pretty well. I was pleased we got this turned around at the right time, and we’ll just see how things go on Saturday.”
Northeastern’s only win came via a valiant effort by No. 1 singles player Hannah McKissick, who is battling a knee injury.
McKissick won 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in what coach Mike Esposito said was her first varsity win over Jones.
McKissick is 7-0 versus TEC opponents and will be the No. 1 seed in the TEC tournament. She has 16 wins this year, and at 53 in her career, the junior is nearing Northeastern’s all-time record of 69.
“Super season for Hannah so far. She works so hard during the winter time to get in physical condition, running and playing all the time over at Earlham, and just getting in shape,” Esposito said.
” … She’s going to therapy every day and wearing the brace … but she hasn’t complained one bit about it. She just goes and does it, but it’s a good match. The two played three very close matches last year, Brittany winning all of them. But Hannah finally got on the top side in another very close match, so it was good.”