May 22—LEBANON — New players. New coach. Same result.
The Zionsville girls tennis team continued their dominance of the sectional on Friday night, topping Lebanon 4-1 to claim their 20th-straight sectional title.
"I am really proud of the girls," Zionsville head coach Earl Allen said. "This is my first year with them, we are playing a lot of sophomores and I couldn't be anything other than proud, excited and happy for them. They played well, they fought hard and you can't ask for anything more."
Heading into this season, none of the Eagles had any varsity experience.
There was a definite learning curve throughout the season, but the more and more the Eagles played, the better they became.
"We are playing our best tennis right now," Allen said. "The girls are peaking and starting to gel. Our doubles teams are starting to get used to play together and the girls are getting their feet wet in the season. I think we are moving in the right direction, are going to finish this season well and carry that into next season."
Lebanon came in looking to win its first sectional title since 1984.
The Tigers had some momentum coming into the match, having won six-straight matches, but couldn't continue it against the Eagles.
"Zionsville is still Zionsville and they will always be that team until we can put some serious fear in them," LePage said. "We did hang, we did fight and I am proud of our kids, but Zionsville was better today. Hats off to them."
The Eagles jumped out to a 2-0 lead by sweeping the doubles spots.
At No. 1 doubles, the team of Natalie Black and Arya Patel topped Michelle Horvat and Irene Ransom 6-0, 6-2. At No. 2 doubles, Grace Baumgartner and Taylor Allen topped Haley Pierce and Khushi Patel 6-1, 6-3.
All four of the girls are sophomores for the Eagles.
"We have been trying to find the right chemistry and right pairings," coach Allen said of his doubles. "It's not necessarily the strongest two, but the two that work best together. I think we finally found the right pairings, and they are working so well together."
The Eagles then clinched the match when freshman Lucy King topped Lebanon's Jessica Lehmkuhler 6-2, 6-0.
Both King and the No. 1 doubles team stay alive in the singles and doubles tournaments.
"She is definitely a really skilled and talented player," Allen said. "She definitely got in her groove and when she did that it was tough to get it away from her."
At No. 2 singles, Lee-Ann Kao topped Ava Lehmkuhler 6-2, 6-2.
Lebanon got a win at No. 3 singles, when Molly Barber topped Lucy Gregory 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
"It was tremendous for her and the team," LePage said. "If Zionsville beats us 5-0 like they have in the past, it's extra defeating. But to have Molly fight and have her whole team behind her — hopefully that drives her and the rest of our girls to get back it. That was a great win for us."
It was the end of a fantastic season for the Tigers, who won the Sagamore Conference title and amassed 12 wins on the year.
Jessica Lehmkuhler and the No. 2 doubles tandem graduate, but the rest will be back.
"From a mental and physical standpoint, them just believing in themselves has been huge," LePage said. "When Zionsville came here tonight, our girls weren't mentally defeated, and we were ready to go. That's a great step and the next step is being able to hang with them from a tennis perspective. We can do that, but it's going to take a lot more dedication on our part and hopefully the girls are up to that challenge."
The Eagles will now face Park Tudor in the regional semifinals on Tuesday.
Allen said the key for the Eagles will be just sticking to what got them to this point.
"Without having much experience, we just have to make sure that we don't panic or get nervous," Allen said. "We want to keep the nerves down and focus on what we do well — play aggressive in doubles, and be really consistent in singles."
Will Willems is the Sports Editor of the Lebanon Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Willems.