On Target: Bull Dogs’ Wilson repeats as state singles champion

Columbus North’s Kathryn Wilson celebrates after winning in straight sets against Harrison’s Emma Gu for the IHSAA Individual Singles State Championship at North Central High School on June 8, 2024.

Rob Baker | For The Republic

INDIANAPOLIS — After winning last year’s Girls Tennis State Singles championship, Kathryn Wilson had a target on her back all season.

But the only targets the Columbus North senior was worried about were the spots where she was was aiming to place her vicious shots. Saturday morning and afternoon, she hit those targets with enough regularity to defend her state title.

“My forehand is my weapon,” Wilson said. “It’s how I win matches, and I think that it was on for me today and it definitely helped me win both of my matches. So I’m just happy that I could use my strengths.”

Both of Wilson’s wins on Saturday came by 6-1, 6-4 scores. She beat Lawrence North’s Izzy May in the morning semifinals, then did the same against West Lafayette Harrison’s Emma Gu in the afternoon championship.

Wilson needed less than 30 minutes to win the first set against Gu. After they split the first two games, Wilson won five in a row.

“It’s always nice to be able to win the first set and feel really confident like that because it just gives you more confident for the second,” Wilson said.

Gu served first in the second set, and the players held serve through five games with Gu leading 3-2. Gu then had two break points to take a 4-2 lead, but Wilson won four consecutive points to even the set at 3-3. Wilson then broke Gu’s serve, Gu broke Wilson and Wilson broke Gu again before Wilson served out the match.

“I did not want to play a third set,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if I would have made it through a third set. I just knew that I had to play my game. When it started getting close in the second, I was more playing her game, and I can’t win like that. So I started playing my game again.”

If Wilson was leery of having to play a third set, it’s because her semifinal took nearly twice as long as Gu’s. Wilson led May 5-1 in the second set before May won three straight games to make it closer.

“Izzy is a battler,” North coach Kendal Hammel said. “Down 5-1, she really stepped up her game and she kept going and going for shots, and Kathryn just had to be a little bit more patient, but still be the aggressor and attack.”

Wilson recovered in time to close out the semifinal in straight sets.

“You have to think one-point-at-a-time, and I think I just started thinking of, ‘I’m going to win this match,’ even though anything can happen,” Wilson said. “I think that the first match really helped me get over my nerves since it was my first one in the (individual) tournament. I was more calm and able to play my game the second match.”

“I think the first match today sort of helped her going into the second match,” Hammel added. “Everyone in the state knows her forehand is her lethal weapon shot, and she was just ripping it in the second match today. She swung away on her backhand much more. I think she was stroking the ball much better in the second match that the morning match.”

The Purdue recruit finished the season 28-1 after going 30-0 last year.

“There was probably a little bit of pressure on her,” Hammel said. “She was probably the favored person overall all season long. But she didn’t let it get to her. It was very good for her to get back to have this opportunity, and she accomplished it.”

Wilson is the first two-time state singles champion in North history. The only other Bull Dog to win was Caroline Hedrick in 2008.

“She’s well deserving,” Hammel said. “There’s been a lot of people involved to get her to this point, and I’m just blessed to be the coach of her at Columbus North High School. She’s a great girl, very competitive and works very hard.”

“It feels great to do this two times in a row,” Wilson added. “Not many people can get to say that they do it once. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m very happy and proud of myself that I’ve been able to accomplish it.”