By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When girls’ tennis expanded to three Classes this fall and new district assignments came out, the Glendale Falcons began thinking big.
Glendale moved to Class 2 District 5. That meant no Class 3 schools like Kickapoo, Catholic or Central lurking in the bracket.
“It was so nice,” said Glendale senior and No. 2 singles Bella Martino. “When coach told us we were in this district, we were like, ‘We have a chance. This is our year.’”
The Falcons seized their chance.
Glendale swept Camdenton 5-0 in the Class 2 District 5 tournament finals on Thursday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
It’s Glendale’s first district title as a team since 2016. The Falcons play Republic on Monday, with a trip to the state final four on the line.
Glendale won 6-3 at Republic on Sept. 21, but the Tigers were without their top singles player for the match.
Glendale’s made it this far with a top six that includes two seniors, one junior, one sophomore and two freshmen.
“A lot of it is team comradery,” Martino said. “We see each other around school, we all know each other. At practice, we have fun. We make sure we know what we’re doing, we have a good head on our shoulders and we’re here to win but also have fun.”
Glendale’s No. 1, sophomore Lucy Huang, swept her singles match (6-0, 6-0) and got another victory in doubles with freshman partner Chloe Stenger (8-0).
Age wise, Huang should be a freshman. She qualified for state last year as a would-be 8th grader going against juniors and seniors.
“You could really see the physical difference,” said Glendale coach Mark Penticuff. “Now, I can definitely tell a difference in her strength and speed. I’m looking forward to her getting stronger, because that means her serves are harder, her ground strokes are harder and everything’s more effective. That’s what she needs.”
Glendale knew what to expect coming into Thursday.
Glendale beat Camdenton 5-0 in the Ozark Conference Tournament on Sept. 29. The Falcons also had some rematches again at the individual/doubles district tournament last weekend.
“It was good to see our scores hold up from when we played them earlier,” Penticuff said. “I was more worried about us being flat today.”
The Falcons took extra precautions to ensure they would play into October.
For practices, Glendale split its players into groups and didn’t allow any interactions. Players didn’t even share balls.
The Falcons were ready for any potential in-season quarantines – which happened to one group.
“If anybody did have to quarantine, they were it,” Penticuff said. “And that’s what happened. We were probably the most podded and protected team.”
For players like senior Lauren Hamm, this fall has been a relief.
Last spring, she had her junior soccer season taken away due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I was kind of scared that it would happen for tennis, but it hasn’t,” she said. “It was really nice getting to play the season, even though we were preparing for the worst. I’m really glad we got the season in.”
Martino said it’s been a challenge trying to stay positive knowing that fall athletes could suffer a similar fate.
“It was just awful seeing the spring sports – especially the seniors – having their season taken away,” Martino said. “Coming in, being seniors now, it was really hard to stay positive about the season. It was hard to care at times, because any day we could be shut down.”
Penticuff said the Falcons have tried to stay focused on the season and not worry about an abrupt ending.
“At the very beginning, it was the big question. ‘What if? What if?’” Penticuff said. “We just said, ‘We’re not playing “What if?” We’re just playing.’ Once the season started, it was not even like a conversation.”
Glendale 5, Camdenton 0
(1) Huang/C. Stenger def. Hultz/Watson, 8-0
(2) Martino/Liggett def. Bergstrom/McGuire, 8-5
(3) Beatty/Hamm def. Borbe/Ernst, 8-0
(1) Huang def. Hultz, 6-0 and 6-0
(6) Hamm def. Ernst, 6-1 and 6-0