After achieving a moderate level of success in recent years, the Gilbert girls tennis program has become a much more serious concern this season under first-year coach Mark Hancock.
“In the past, this was a team that would either win easily or lose big,” said Hancock, who works at Country Club of Lexington.
“There was no sense of what it meant to compete for a whole match, or what it would take to have success as a team. I’m pretty intense about coaching, and it’s taken the girls some time to get used to it and understand what it is all about. We’re starting to get the idea.”
Gilbert passed a major hurdle on Tuesday, downing Woodruff 4-2 in the Class 2A state playoffs to advance to the third round for the first time in history. The Indians (13-6) square off against old nemesis Emerald at home in Thursday’s Upper State championship match with a spot in Saturday state title bout hanging in the balance.
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Emerald, the three-time defending Upper State champion, has eliminated Gilbert in three of the past four seasons.
“I’m sure (Emerald) is going to think it’s going to be easy again, but the girls have really turned the corner in the past few weeks,” said Hancock. “We may not have the greatest individual players, but we’ve become a much better team. We compete, even when we get down.”
The Indians transformation was in full view against Woodruff when three singles players – Haley Phillips at No. 3, Carlie George at No. 4 and Harlee Miller at No. 5 - battled back from deficits for wins that made the difference. George and Miller both pulled out wins in third-set tie-breaker after losing in the first set. Phillips won in two after getting off to an 0-3 start in the first set.
Addie Rissinger was the other Gilbert winner at No. 2 singles.
The rest of the starting lineup features Grayson Harley at No. 1 singles and Devyn Hogan and Lexi Kalec at No. 2 doubles.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win (vs. Emerald), but I’m sure we will compete and that’s been the point,” said Hancock.