Lady Rams run away with region girls tennis crown, place fourth at stateNov 11, 2020 11h45 ● By Josh Mc Fadden
Highland sophomore Grace Harman (left) and senior Abby Bradford were part of the team’s region championship season. (Photo by Jenny Mauro.)
By Josh McFadden | [email protected]
The Highland girls tennis team was dominant during the regular season and captured the league title with little resistance. The competition at the Class 5A state tournament was much fiercer, leaving the Rams short on achieving their goals.
The Rams went undefeated in region play and easily won the Region 6 tournament title. In fact, Highland scored enough points on the first day of the two-day affair to clinch the championship.
“That rarely happens,” said head coach Jeanine Elsholz. “We could have lost all 10 matches on day two and still won the championship.”
During region play in the regular season, Highland won 32 of 35 possible matches, putting the team in a position to go into the tournament with a six-point lead against the second-place team. On day one of the region tournament, Highland won nine of its 10 matches. Sophie Hastings, Elsa Pearce and both doubles teams finished in first place.
Elsholz and her players wish the results would have been different at state.
At the state tournament, held Oct. 1 and 3 at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, Highland placed fourth overall. It was the highest state finish in school history. The Rams were aiming for even bigger things.
“We Were disappointed with where we placed,” she said. “We were really hoping for a top-three finish this year, and I felt we had the team to get there.”
Still, Elsholz was impressed at state with Pearce (playing at third singles) and Grace Harman, who was part of the first doubles team. Both players were new to the varsity squad this season and exceeded Elsholz’s expectations. She said both performed well under pressure and didn’t succumb to the postseason jitters that many tournament newcomers face. The entire team made it through the first round. Hastings, at first singles, and the second doubles team of Kate Creamer and Lucy Foulks won two matches to get to the semifinals.
That’s where their seasons came to an end.
The season may not have ended how Elsholz had hoped, but Highland’s accomplishments were impressive, especially considering how far the program has come in recent years. Highland’s 18-0 regular season record not only led to a region title, but the team also won three in-season tournaments: the Cache Valley Tournament, the Maeser Prep Tournament and the St. George Tournament.
Plus, the team had to deal with the challenging COVID-19 restrictions.
“We had 70 girls on our team this season, and with the COVID restrictions and only four courts, we had to break our practices into five sessions, which took a ton of time, Elsholz said. “The restrictions also took away all of our team get-togethers, which have been such an important part of developing our unity and team camaraderie.”
On the court, players had to keep their distance; they couldn’t huddle up or give hugs or high-fives to teammates. Elsholz said this made it difficult to communicate with one another, and it limited their feeling of connection and closeness. There were also a limited number of spectators who could watch matches, including in Salt Lake where no spectators were allowed.
Against these odds, the Rams stayed vigilant and resilient. Elsholz is thrilled with how far the program has come.
“We have worked hard at Highland to turn the program around—to move form a rec mindset to a comp mindset,” she said. “It means a lot to be able to compete at the top of our region, which is always a competitive region, and also at a state level. When we can reach the goals we set for ourselves as a program, it feels very good.”
Hastings and Abby Bradford will graduate and will be difficult to replace. However, Elsholz will welcome back everyone else from the varsity squad next season. The JV program has also been strong and continue to push varsity players for their spots.
“We have some young, talented players that came in as freshmen, and I expect to see great things from them in the future,” she said.