Oct 21, 2021 6:10 PM

LeBlond girls' tennis heads back to Final Four, looks to build off of last year's run

Posted Oct 21, 2021 6:10 PM
Murphy King. Photo by Tommy Rezac.
Murphy King. Photo by Tommy Rezac.

By TOMMY REZAC

St. Joseph Post

Bishop LeBlond had a historic run in girls' tennis in 2020, qualifying as a team for state and finishing in the top four for the first time since 2009.

With a healthy crop of returning talent, along with two new freshmen, the Eagles (12-3) felt confident they could do it again. Lo and behold, LeBlond is headed back to Springfield for the team semifinals.

"It really means a lot," said senior Lily Sullivan. "We've put a lot of work into this year and this season to push and win every match like every match counted. So, we really deserve to be here and I think we can pull through."

LeBlond won their second straight district title on October 6, defeating Savannah 5-0.

They went onto beat Marshall in sectionals, 5-3, and then Harrisonville, 5-0, in quarterfinals on Oct. 12, putting them in the Final Four for a second consecutive season, and for the first time under new head coach Jackson Gwinn, who's also a professional tennis instructor at Genesis St. Joseph.

"I was just really impressed with how the girls fought to keep going and keep progressing through all of it," Gwinn said. "We had a couple close matches going through sectionals and everything. It just made it really worthwhile getting there."

LeBlond was represented in the individual state tennis tournament in doubles last Friday by senior Peyton Netten and sophomore Emily Weddle. They lost in the sectional round to Mount Vernon's Brooke Loftus and Jessah Anderson, 6-4, 6-3, but Weddle says getting that postseason experience again as an individual was valuable.

Weddle qualified for the individual state tournament in singles as a freshman last season, too. She says going to state with her entire team helps relieve some of the pressure.

"But, going into (state) as a team, you have a lot more help," she said. "So, it's more relieving."

Another young player who had a big season for LeBlond is freshman Iris Ideker, who finished second in singles at districts and made it to the Class 1 Section 8 meet before getting eliminated 6-2, 6-0 by Marshall's Karsyn King.

"It was super fun," Ideker said. "I didn't expect to make it that far as a freshman."

LeBlond has 10 players on its current roster that were part of last season's fourth place finish at state - the ninth top four finish for Eagles' girls tennis at state in school history.

Gwinn had previously worked with about half of those 10 girls as their tennis instructor at Genesis. That made his first season as their varsity coach in 2021 that much smoother.

"About half of the team already knew me," Gwinn explained. "So, they were not afraid to ask me questions and joke around with me a little bit. So, that helped a lot and made it a bit of a lighter mood going into it. So, I appreciated that personally."

The Eagles will first face Westminster Christian Academy (12-7) on Friday morning at 9 a.m. The winner will face either Kennett (19-0) or Bolivar (16-6) in the championship at 3 p.m.

The third place match will also take place Friday at 3 p.m.

As LeBlond looks to win its first state title in girls' tennis since 1979, Sullivan is confident that her and the four other seniors on the team can go out on top - as long as they continue on the path they've been on.

"We have a lot of confidence," she said. "We just need to put our minds to it and not get in our heads and worry too much, because we can do whatever we put our minds to. Like, if we try hard enough, we can do it. Nothing is impossible."

Peyton Netten.
Peyton Netten.
Emily Weddle.
Emily Weddle.

You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.