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The Central Catholic girls tennis team already has made history this season, claiming victories over rivals St. Ursula and Notre Dame for the first time.
Now the Irish look to achieve another bit of history: the school's first City League title at the league tournament which will take place next week.
“Everyone is shocked — Central is competing with St. Ursula and Notre Dame in tennis,” junior Anna Scherting said. “Everyone sees the underdog is coming through and winning.
“It boosted our team's self-esteem, winning those matches. Now we know we can compete with those teams. And after those wins, you could see everyone boost their effort in practice that one extra step.”
Ninth-year coach Lisa Bialorucki and her team returned a number of key players from last season, so the preseason goals were lofty.
“A lot of people expected us to be really, really good,” junior Maria Mitchell said. “This year we started from the beginning working to be undefeated. It's been tough to fulfill those expectations, but I think we've dealt with that pressure.”
Victories over the league's traditional powers — and a 14-0 record in dual matches — showed that those lofty goals were attainable.
“When you win a match against a team you've never beaten, that's huge,” Bialorucki said. “You think, ‘Wow, now it's our turn.' I think that's helped everyone — myself included — start to believe.”
The Irish have a powerful one-two punch at the top of their lineup in the Delp sisters. Morgan, a junior co-captain who plays first singles, and Sydney, a sophomore who starts at second singles, both are undefeated this season.
“Morgan is mentally tough — she's one of the most mentally tough girls I've coached,” Bialorucki said. “She has a lot of tournament tennis experience, and she's learned a lot from her junior tournament play.
“She's solid, she's steady, she doesn't miss. She's very consistent. And when the pressure is on her, she handles that pressure.
“And you can't have a better second singles player than Sydney. She's very athletic — probably the most athletic player on the team. She has great hand skills, she can hit all kinds of spins, she has a great reach and she's quick.”
The rest of the lineup includes senior Beth Diacou at third singles, the first doubles team of Scherting and junior McKenna Hunter, and the second doubles unit of Mitchell and sophomore Shannon O'Hearn. Sophomore Lexie Brown also has seen extensive doubles action.
“Beth has been a surprise,” Bialorucki said. “She played junior varsity for us last year, but she worked all winter on her game. She has a big heart. I put her at third singles against St. Ursula, and she played a great match and won in three sets, basically because of her determination.”
The coach, a Central graduate who is in the hall of fame at both the school and the City League, also has been pleased by the play of her doubles teams.
“Finding the right chemistry amongst the girls has been key,” Bialorucki said. “We've emphasized doubles play a lot in practice. It takes three points to win a match.
“Obviously Morgan and Sydney are good players, but you need three points, so third singles and the two doubles matches are important.”
The Delp sisters also realize that support from their teammates will be a key towards reaching their goal of a team title.
“We can't win the City League title — or anything — without the whole team,” Sydney Delp said. “We can't just have one player beat everybody. We've learned that during the season.
“We've learned to trust and count on each other to pull through. We cheer and support each other, and that has helped us bond together.”
Bialorucki said winning that first team title won't be easy.
“I think the City League title is still up for grabs,” she said. “I thought our matches with St. Ursula and Notre Dame — even though we won 4-1 — were very close.
“I think we have an advantage because of our victories during the regular season, but we're still going to have to perform at the tournament.”
Bialorucki said the victories gave her team experience in dealing with difficult situations, which also will be a plus entering the league tournament and the state tournament.
“Those matches were pressure-filled,” she said. “I think there were some expectations that we would win those matches, so that put pressure on our team.
“But I'm proud of the girls, because they handled that pressure well. Everybody did their jobs.”
Morgan Delp, who reached the No. 1 singles final in last year's City League tournament before losing, has a bigger goal than just winning the individual crown.
“It would be exciting [to win the singles title], but I'd be more excited if the team won,” she said. “It's been so long for Central, so to do that for our school would be so exciting.”
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6481.