Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — The Bolivar Liberators (16-1) tennis team weren’t the only foe standing in the way for yet another district title run for the Springfield Catholic Lady Irish (14-1).
A late afternoon rain system forced its way through Springfield — most notably Catholic High School — where the Lady Irish had their sights set on a Class 1 District 9 championship.
As the rain pelted away, the Irish and Liberators — after nearly completing the doubles portion of the tournament — packed up shop and headed for Cooper Tennis Complex.
There — instead of on their home courts — the Irish defeated the Liberators, 5-1.
This marks the fourth consecutive title in as many seasons for the Irish.
The junior tandem of Erin Jarvis (No. 1 individual singles player) and Claire Griesemer (No. 2) set the tone, as they have all season, defeating Megan Roberts and Alexis Berry, 8-1.
For Jarvis, switching locations is nothing new — especially when it’s a familiar, formidable opponent.
“Yes, this happened [my] freshman year against Bolivar. So it is kind of déjà vu. We won, so hopefully, we can win again,” Jarvis said, shortly after arriving at Cooper.
While the team collectively defeated Bolivar’s doubles teams two of three matches, it was slow going out of the gate for Jarvis and Griesemer.
“Doubles was good. We started out OK, but I think after we lost a game, we kind of turned it around,” Jarvis said. “We weren’t really losing many points after that. Claire and I can kind of get in a groove.”
And once the aforementioned “groove” begins, it’s a continuous battle for the opposing team, as the Irish tandem have yet to lose this season.
“I think we are pretty solid together,” Jarvis said.
While there weren’t many volleys during the match, more aggressive play by both players became the theme en route to the title.
“I think we started going for it a little more,” Jarvis said. “I actually toned down my returns, but we both started going for more at the net. That has been the key for us this season. The more aggressive we are at the net, we are earning points quicker [by] putting the pressure on our opponents, and that is a very good thing.”
In other doubles action, Lauren Neu and Zabelle Baron defeated Josie Douglas and Taylor Clayton, 8-2.
And the team of Elizabeth Tynes and Alex Hamilton fell to Bolivar’s Addison Martino and McKinley Hedges, 5-8.
Jarvis and Griesemer defended the perimeter well, and forced the Liberators into unfavorable deficits.
“We wanted to attack second serves, and then we wanted to make sure that we were coaching a fair amount. After I’d serve, or after Claire would serve, I’d quickly move over and get their return, or vice versa. That is a good way to earn points, especially in girls tennis,” Jarvis said. “The returns weren’t coming back super hard, so, I get pretty excited at the net and I go for a lot.”
As the top two players in the program, the dynamic duo set the tone, but that tone resonates down to the fifth and sixth players.
“For the most part, the chemistry is good,” VerSteeg said, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the Lady Irish. “We have good leadership at the top. My one and two are good leaders — they are by example — not too much vocal. They show the work ethic and the other girls see what [they] have to do to be a better player.”
Catholic has become a staple in Ozarks tennis, as the Lady Irish have gone to state each of the past three seasons, taking fourth place each round — all under VerSteeg.
So, what’s it like playing for such a tradition-rich program?
Added Jarvis: “It is really fun. It is just nice being part of the community — the athletic success [at Catholic] is pretty common. We won a ton of district championships as a school last year.”
While being a constant presence throughout the postseason each year, there are drawbacks — as other programs are running at the chance to dethrone the champs.
“I think, locally, a lot of teams are out to get us. We always have our tightest matches with Kickapoo and Central. Those are the two that I look forward to,” Jarvis said.
The Irish’s lone loss this season came against Central, 5-4.
Down two players against Central, positives were drawn from the loss.
And depth is a large factor, which has been a ripple effect all season.
“They feed off of that,” VerSteeg said. “All the way down, they go out there and do a pretty good job, one through 6, and seven and eight.
Griesemer could not be reached for comment.
In singles action:
Jarvis defeated Roberts, 6-2, 6-1.
Griesemer defeated Berry, 6-2, 6-0.
Neu defeated Douglas, 6-1, 6-0.