Lady Hatchet netters headed to uncharted territory

Todd Lancaster | Times Herald The Washington Lady Hatchet tennis team prepared for state with a practice on Tuesday. Pictured, front row (from left): Melida Ajradinoska, Kenzie Knepp and Grace Allison. Back row: Kenli Barber, Kencia Levasseur, Aliana Thorne, Ali Barber, Bella Thorne, Sophia Davis and Quincee Healy.

The Washington Lady Hatchet tennis team is breaking ground with every step of the current IHSAA tournament.

The team now finds itself with a 20-1 record and an invitation to the state finals tourney.

Last year's squad broke a sectional drought that went back more than three decades, however, this crew needed just one calendar year to repeat the task.

They also beat Jasper to win the school's first-ever girls tennis regional, and followed it up with a 3-2 victory in the one-match semi-state.

Now, WHS heads to truly uncharted territory as they face No. 11 Center Grove at Center Grove in the State quarter-finals on Friday at 3 p.m.

WHS coach Brian Hancock feels like they have been building toward something like this for the last couple of years.

"I have to give my wife Lori a lot of credit for helping. When I took over, Lori took over the junior high and we really committed to getting kids to play and getting lessons. Things have really developed from there," said Hancock.

There are several unique aspects about this team, as there are two sets of siblings on the varsity team, and one set on the JV. There are also no seniors. The fact that they have no seniors is particularly pertinent as the semi-state match at Jasper did not end until after graduation began on Saturday and that could have been a problem if there had been.

"I think this group is special and part of that comes from being so athletic. We have basketball players, volleyball players and girls from other sports," added Hancock. "They really know how to compete on so many different levels and that helps and makes a difference."

The Hatchets have also been in the unusual position of advancing through the tournament with all 3-2 wins.

"We have had different girls step up every match," said Hancock. "They are so used to competing that they never give up."

Because of the multi-sport players, the team has a different look than a lot of other teams at state.

"It's funny, we are underdogs at 20-1, but that is OK with us," said Hancock. "We don't have the girls who play year-round, but don't be confused, our kids have put in the time in the summers, and most of these kids have been playing since fifth grade and have done everything we have asked them to do."

The Hatchets have been led by a pair of freshmen in Alaina Thorne and Kencia Levasseur. Thorne has gone 23-0, while Levasseur comes in at 18-2.

"Those are two girls we have really been able to depend on," said Hancock.

Junior Ali Barber has played No. 1 singles and Hancock is impressed with the role she has played.

"We originally had Bella Thorne at No. 1, but moved her to No. 1 doubles to help strengthen them up. Ali took on that tough role knowing she would be facing everyone's best," added Hancock.

Bella Thorne and Kenli Barber have held down the No. 1 doubles spot, while Quincee Healy and Sophia Davis have been successful at the No. 2 doubles.

"We have a good chemistry with both of our doubles spots and they have both come up big at both spots this year," said Hancock.

Team captain Ali Barber said that her teammates are ready for the challenge.

"We have worked hard this season and we are ready for the challenges. To make it to state is not anything any of us would have expected," said Ali Barber. "We are going to go up there and not have any pressure on us."

Hancock also wanted to talk about his JV team and the success they have had this year.

"I don't think they have lost a match this year. The great thing is we can bring them over for drills and practice and we never miss a beat," he said. "We have Kenzi Knepp, Melida Ajradinoska, Grace and Alex Allison and Addie McMurry. We have 12 quality players and I'll take quality over quantity any day."

Hancock said that his goal for Friday against Center Grove is to compete just like they have all year.

"Center Grove is a 'traditional' team and they will be very tough. We have played in close matches and between that and our schedule we should be prepared. We want to go up there and get three wins. We think that we can compete at all five spots," said Hancock.

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