ELKHART — It’s obvious the Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers are the party crashers in this field.
They’re the only program among the eight girls tennis state finalists that hasn’t made it this far before. In fact, all the others have been to the finals multiple times before, while the Chargers had never even won a sectional before this year.
They’re also the only team in the field that isn’t state-ranked. All the rest are rated among the top 19, including No. 1 Carmel, No. 2 Indianapolis North Central and No. 3 Evansville Memorial, which will be the Chargers’ quarterfinal opponent Friday, June 6, at Carmel.
GIRLS TENNIS STATE FINALS
Friday, June 6
3 p.m. Quarterfinals
• Indianapolis North Central (21-2) vs. Culver Academy (18-4) at Carmel
• Evansville Memorial (17-0) vs. Elkhart Memorial (18-0) at Carmel
• Greenwood (19-2) vs. Park Tudor (13-4) at Center Grove
• Carmel (18-0) vs. Floyd Central (20-4) at Center Grove
Saturday, June 7
10 a.m. Semifinals
• Winners from Carmel meet at North Central
• Winners from Center Grove meet at North Central
2 p.m. Championship
• Semifinal winners meet at North Central
But, hey, these Chargers are getting pretty adept at party crashing.
No. 1 doubles player Haley Stouder even kind of crashed her own last Saturday, after Memorial beat Marion 4-1 in a Fort Wayne Concordia Semistate championship.
Stouder’s graduation open house was scheduled for 1 p.m. the same day. Stouder, returning from Fort Wayne, didn’t show up until close to 3, and many of her teammates followed even later.
“My grandparents stayed home getting everything ready, and I know it was really hard on them to miss my semistate,” Stouder said, “but they did an excellent job with everything and I really appreciate it. And my friends had already made a sign that said congratulations on winning semistate, and it was hanging up when I walked in.”
If tardiness to one’s own open house isn’t enough during this surreal tournament run that the Chargers are making, one player won a car this week (more on that below) and each of the players will miss Friday’s last day of school, a school day that only came about because of snow days, but a day that does feature some final exams.
“It’s just been a crazy time,” junior No. 1 doubles player Taelor Grose said Thursday afternoon at practice as the team prepared to take off later in the evening for a two-night stay in the Indianapolis area. “It hasn’t really hit yet that we’re going to State. It’s crazy thinking we’re in the final eight. I knew we were tough, but now we’re a little further than I imagined.”
“I got all my finals done early,” freshman and No. 1 singles player Krystal Grubb said, “so I’m not really going to miss anything.”
“It’s strange to me that I’m done with high school,” said Stouder, one of just two seniors on the team with Hannah Dillman, “It’s going to be hard not to say goodbye to everybody, but we’re all going on to the next chapters of our lives anyway and I can’t wait.”
The most immediate chapter is that 3 p.m. Friday date with Evansville Memorial (17-0). The Tigers join the Chargers (18-0) among the state’s final three unbeatens, along with Carmel (18-0).
Blue-clad Evansville is one of the blue bloods of Indiana tennis. The Tigers’ six girls state titles (most recent in 2012) are exceeded only by North Central’s 12, and matched by Carmel’s and Park Tudor’s six apiece.
This spring, the Tigers have beaten five fellow ranked teams, all by at least 4-1 counts, and they’ve outscored their opposition 23-2 during postseason.
Still, the Chargers, the only team left in the field without a postseason shutout to their credit, don’t seem daunted.
“I’m sure they’re very good, but so are we,” Grubb said of Evansville.
“We’re going to have to play very tough,” Grose said, “but even with the rain and being indoors this week, we’re worked on some new things. Everyone’s put in a lot of hard work.”
“We celebrated for about five minutes Monday,“ Stouder said of the semistate, “and then we put it off to the side and got back to working.”
LINING UP JUST RIGHT
Among the many highlights to Memorial’s unprecedented success this spring has been the smooth shift by Grose from 3 singles, where she won a Northern Lakes Conference title a year ago, to 1 doubles.
Grose and Stouder own the team’s best mark at 22-1 together, and they remain alive in the individual tourney field as well.
“Trying to figure out our best lineup, I knew Taelor had been very successful at 3 singles,” said Alex Holtz, who returned as coach this year after a decade away.
“I was thinking Taylor Freedline would be well-suited for 3 singles, but I was also thinking, boy, it might be a tough sell putting Taelor (at 1 doubles), and I have had seasons torpedoed before by players who resisted changing positions,” Holtz said, “but right away, Taelor was like, ‘Whatever’s best.’ And she and Haley have just had a great year together.”
“Playing 3 singles helped me focus on ground strokes and being consistent,” Grose said, “and in doubles, having strong ground strokes can take you far because most (doubles players) are so focused on net work. I’m more ground stokes and Haley’s really good at the net, so we even each other out. I think that’s why we’re good together.”
Meanwhile, over in singles, another lineup issue to be resolved as the season unfolded involved who would be at No. 1 and who at No. 2 between Grubb and Corinn Whittaker.
Whittaker occupied No. 1 early in the season, and handled herself well with a 3-1 mark, while newcomer Grubb got acclimated, but ultimately, the freshman took the top spot. Both players have excelled, and each is 21-3 overall.
“I love playing 2 singles,” Whittaker after the regional. “I’ve played it all three years now, so it’s just a comfort zone thing for me.”
At Memorial, students who had perfect or near-perfect attendance this school year were given a chance earlier this week to win a used car.
Grubb, one of 284 students in the blind drawing, had her name picked for the 2005 vehicle.
“Good luck has been happening to me this week and I just hope it continues,” said Grubb, who turned 15 in April and is about a year and a half away from being eligible for a driver’s license.
Grubb was asked Thursday if she’d rather win a car or win state. She didn’t hesitate.
“State, most definitely,” Grubb said. “You can always find a way to buy a car, but you can’t just win state when you want. That takes work, and winning a car is just luck.”