Knights return top-flight champs, but Pats, Raiders are teams to beat
The girls state tennis tournament gets underway at two locations Thursday in Rapid City, with the top three singles flights competing at Sioux Park beginning at 9 a.m. central, followed by the top two doubles flights at 2 p.m. The remaining singles and doubles flights will follow the same schedule at Parkview.
There are four teams worth keeping an eye on heading into the tournament: Lincoln, O’Gorman, Stevens and St. Thomas More.
St. Thomas More enters as the defending state champions, while O’Gorman boasts a lethal one-two punch with Danielle Sebata and Sam Czarnecki anchoring their top flights. However, it’s the depth brought by undefeated Lincoln (25-0) and Rapid City Stevens that has them positioned as the two favorites heading in.
Below is a bit of news, followed by notes and quotes compiled over over the past few weeks to get you ready for this weekend’s championship.
LOVE ALL AROUND
Both the Knights and Raiders tabbed Lincoln as the team to beat ahead of the state tournament, but when asked which group presented the biggest challenge, all three gave different answers.
At O’Gorman, Sebata pointed to Lincoln, as did Czarnecki, who added: “It’s probably going to be a tossup between Lincoln and St. Thomas More.”
From the west side of the state, Stevens coach Jason Olson pointed to the Knights as a team that concerned him based on what happened at last year’s championship.
“I tell you what, O’Gorman, we beat them in duals twice last year, but they were able to beat us pretty handily at the state tournament, because they did so well at one, two (singles) and one (doubles), and then their three singles did really well,” he said.
As for the Patriots, it’s Rapid City Stevens, which can match their depth and claimed first- and third-flight wins when they last met (Lincoln won 5-4).
TOP FLIGHT SHOWDOWNS
If there’s one player to dethrone Sebata at this year’s state tournament, it might be Lincoln’s Sidney Brower. The senior is the only player to have won a set off Sebata this season, and her left-handedness presents its own set of challenges.
But as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and Brower has yet to break through against her former teammate.
“It’s a lot of mental stuff for me,” Brower said. “I just need to stay positive with myself and not get upset by stuff.”
“(Brower) is a hard worker,” O’Gorman coach Don Barnes said. “Gets a lot of balls back and hits with decent pace. She’s a determined kid.”
Stevens’ Grace Goble could also take a run at Sebata for the top flight singles title.
The Raiders’ top player has gone 20-4 on the year, with three of those losses coming against Sebata and the other against Brower. Goble won nine singles matches in-a-row, including a 6-3, 7-5 win over Brower.
It’s worth noting that Goble, who missed the first part of the season due to injury, has yet to be pushed into a third set in any of her matches.
“(Goble) is big, strong – hits it a ton,” Barnes said. “Probably has the best serve out of all three or four of that top group. She’s realizing that quite a bit. Got a big forehand and has some size to her.”
Seeding Sebata one, with Brower and Goble as Nos. 2 and 3 (in no particular order), appeared to be the most likely scenario entering Wednesday’s seeding meeting. Sebata is the clear-cut top player in the state. As such, she should only have to face one of either Brower or Goble, the next best in Flight 1 and two players who seemingly earned spots opposite Sebata in the bracket.
But that’s not the case.
Instead, Madison’s Eleonore Valente was seeded second, with Goble at No. 3 and Brower at No. 4.
“They have a point system that they use,” Lincoln coach Tom Krueger said via phone Wednesday night. “(Valente) didn’t play very many matches. I honestly don’t know how it turned out that way and how the point system came up with the result like that, but it did. We’ll just make the best of it and we’ll go forward from there.”
Though Valente (9-1) has lost fewer matches than both Goble (22-4) and Brower (23-4), her first match came on Sept. 1, meaning she avoided both Lincoln and St. Thomas More (Madison did not face O’Gorman or Stevens). Her best win came against Yankton’s Anne Knoff (21-9), who dealt Valente her only loss later in the season.
“They went strictly by the point system that they have set up and that’s the way seeding went,” Krueger said. “She didn’t play a lot of matches. She did lose to Yankton, yet she’s still seeded at 2. I’m not sure how the point system works to come up with that as a result, but that’s the way it went.”
The bracket configurations leave Brower and Sebata set up for a potential semifinals meeting.
“The situation is tough for (Sebata) as well,” Krueger explained. “Now she has to play two of the best players in the state and she should only have to play one.”
Despite the difficult draw, Krueger exuded confidence in Brower as she prepares to open the state tournament.
“When it comes right down to it, you have to perform and you have to beat the people they put in front of you and that’s your challenge,” he said. “For Sidney, that’s going to be a challenge. I have 100 percent confidence in what she’s going to do in this tournament. I’ve always felt this entire season that she’s going to have a phenomenal state tournament and this doesn’t change that. It just makes it a little more difficult. But if she were to win it, and she was seeded two or three, she would have had to play Grace Goble and Danielle. If it works out that way, she could be also beating and playing Danielle in the semis and Grace in the finals, so it could be a situation where she ends up playing the same people, just in a different order.”
In flight two, Lincoln junior Meredith Benson will look to emerge from a pack of seniors.
Should the one and three seeds make it through to the championship match, it will be Benson and Czarnecki meeting for the fourth time this season, with Czarnecki having won the previous three.
“Meredith is a really good, consistent player. She’s pretty tough when she’s on,” Czarnecki said prior to the Metro Meet. “But I’ve played with her all the time in the summer, so I know her game pretty well. She’s a good competitor and gives it a good fight.”
For her part, Benson, who said she didn’t feel as much pressure heading into her second match against Czarnecki, is optimistic heading into state.
“I feel good because I’ve only lost to Sami, which is what I was hoping for all season,” she said afterward. “I feel confident and hopefully state will go well.”
NEWS AND NOTES
— As noted in a release from the SDHSAA, new champions will be crowned in third and fifth flight singles due to graduation.
— Emily Whitney (Lincoln) enters fourth flight competition undefeated, as does Jaden Elliott (Rapid City Stevens), who will be competing in Flight 6. Elliott is looking to defend her state title from a year ago.
–With the exception of Flight 5, where Madison’s Morgan Wray is the top seed, the top two players in the remaining singles flights are from Lincoln and Stevens.
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .