Singles success

Experience counts for something as trio has led North to 14-2 record

Columbus North girls tennis coach Kendal Hammel said at the beginning of the season that his team would go as his singles players go.

With three veterans at the top of the lineup, Hammel has been prophetic. Senior Aubrey Smith and juniors Madelyn Sanders and Yijaing Zhao are a combined 43-5 this season in leading the Bull Dogs to a No. 12 state ranking and a 14-2 record going into today’s Conference Indiana Tournament.

“They’re the rock, no doubt about it, for this team,” Hammel said. “We have three good, strong players. Our doubles, we’re still trying to work on it and improve it. We can hopefully win two out of three singles matches and get a doubles win in there.”

North has won all three singles matches in most of its contests this season. Smith is 13-3 at No. 1 singles with losses against players from third-ranked Center Grove, No. 22 Evansville Memorial and No. 5 North Central.

Smith is in her fourth year playing No. 1 singles. But it’s the first year she hasn’t been slowed by allergies or nagging injuries.

“Some of the (opposing No. 1 singles players) that were better last year graduated, so that helps,” Smith said. “The ones that I’ve lost, I definitely could have won.”

Sanders is 15-1 at No. 2 singles, and Zhao is 15-1 at No. 3 singles. Sanders’ lone loss came at North Central.

Last year, Sanders played No. 3 singles.

“The only main difference between 3 and 2 is consistency,” Sanders said. “The girls at 3 keep the ball in more often, but their shots aren’t necessarily better. At 2, I just have to focus on hitting my shots instead of playing a different game.”

Zhao has made a bigger switch, going from singles to doubles. She said she’s normally more comfortable with singles, but that there’s not much of a difference in the way she plays.

Zhao’s lone loss this season came in the season opener against Center Grove.

“I really regret losing that match, and I feel like if we played them again, Aubrey and I would win,” Zhao said.

Since that 4-1 loss to Center Grove, the Bull Dogs have won 14 of their past 15. The schedule gets a little tougher in the next few days with a possible conference title match against No. 9 Terre Haute South today and a battle at No. 1 Carmel on Tuesday.

Sanders said she and Smith and Zhao help each other out by playing challenge matches against each other, which makes all of them better.

“We’ve worked hard during practice, and it’s showed in the matches,” Sanders said.

If you go

Conference Indiana Tournament

Today at Franklin Central

10 a.m.: Columbus North vs. Bloomington North

10 a.m.: Terre Haute South vs. Franklin Central

Noon: Championship and third-place matches

NOTE: If rain prevents the tournament from being held outside, it will be moved indoors to University of Indianapolis. In that case, the semifinal matches would be at noon, and the championship and third-place matches would be held at a later date to be determined.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.