Wednesday was an early wake-up call for many of South Dakota high school girls' tennis players. In more ways than one.
Due to weather issues predicted from Thursday through the weekend, the South Dakota High School Activities Association decided to open state tournament play in Rapid City on Wednesday, a day earlier than usual. And with the move, a number of East River teams took to the road early to make the 3 p.m. start time.
None perhaps earlier than the Milbank squad that were up and on the road at 6 a.m. (CST) for what amounted to an eight-hour trip to Rapid City.
“It was a little tough with fog when we started, and then the wind made it harder slowing us down and making it hard to move in and out around the semis,” Milbank coach Jim Dahl said. “But the kids were good about it, and I think the decision to move the tournament up a day was the right one.”
Dahl’s opinion was shared by most coaches according to SDHSAA Executive Director Jo Auch, who was on hand at Sioux Park on Wednesday.
“We started looking at things on Monday and saw that the weather was going to be rainy, so we sent an email out to our schools asking if they would consider moving the tournament to a Wednesday start,” Auch said. “All 23 schools responded very favorably. And wanting to get in as many matches as possible we made the decision yesterday and let schools know. I’ve been in the office for 11 years, and this is the first time that I recall doing something like this at a state level, so I’m very proud of our schools for looking out for the best interests of the kids.”
One of the first matches on Wednesday’s hurry up schedule featured a couple of Rapid City competitors as freshman Ella Hancock of Rapid City Christian faced off against Rapid City Central senior McKenzey Crowley in a flight one match, with Hancock prevailing 10-1 in very windy conditions.
“Fortunately, we got a chance to hit before the match, so I had a chance to figure it out then. It was definitely a change when you moved from one side to the other, but if you are playing tennis in South Dakota, you are playing tennis in the wind,” Hancock said. “I didn’t really expect much of myself today so I’m really proud of the way that I played.”
The first two rounds of singles play on Wednesday docket, as is typically the case in opening rounds, saw top seeded players in each bracket easily advanced through to the quarterfinal round.
Hancock’s second round opponent, three-time state champion, and top-seeded Danielle Sebata of O’Gorman (23-0 on the season) did so convincingly ousting the Rapid City Christian freshman 6-0, 6-0.
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“It definitely affected my game plan,” Sebata said of the windy conditions. “If you hit the ball too hard one way, it would go out, so I definitely had to change up a little bit. But you have to get through it and I did. There are a lot of very good players in my flight, and trying for a fourth title will be hard, but if I stick to my game plan, I think I will be okay.”
Easily one of the most competitive matches in flight one play featured 9th-seeded Peyton Forney of Rapid City Stevens matched up with 8th-seeded Avery Larson of Mitchell.
In a mini-upset, Larson won the regular season meeting, Forney utilized the windy conditions to her advantage in posting a 6-2, 6-3 win, thereby setting up a Thursday quarterfinal match with Sebata.
“Today it was probably more smart playing than good playing on my part,” said Forney, who typically plays with a lot of pace from both sides on every point. “And the wind was a factor, too. I made a point of keeping the ball in play and not let the wind affect me. I grew up in Pierre, so I’m used to the wind, and that played to my advantage.”
Ashleigh Scott of St. Thomas More, 4th seeded in flight one, also advanced into quarterfinal play, 6-1, 6-1 win over Milbank’s Halli Essington in a match played not only in wind, but in mid-30s real-feel temperatures.
“We play and practice at Parkview, so we are used to wind, and I didn’t really feel the cold,” Scott said. “I just played my normal game and tried to keep the ball in play. I feel like I played as well as I could with the wind swirling around. I couldn’t hit the ball as hard with the wind so I adjusted by adding more spin.”
Rapid City Steven players advanced in all six flights — in addition to Forney in flight 1, Ashley Lundstrom (3rd seed in flight 2), Katie Conrad (top-seed in 3), Abbey Dehler (6th seed in 4), Julia Wiedmeier (4th seed in 5), and Erica Wing (2nd seed in 6) all advanced.
Bridget Raymond (4th seed in flight 2), Ali Scott (3rd seed in 4), and Katherine Achbach (5th seed in 5) of St. Thomas More advanced to the quarterfinals as well.
As far as Thursday’s schedule is concerned — both singles consolation and third round play are on tap as well as opening rounds in doubles — the SDHSAA has prepared for the weather be it good or bad.
“I’ve prepared an outdoor schedule for (Thursday), plus an indoor schedule, and I will be up at about four o’clock checking the weather,” Auch said with a laugh. “We have a remind app that we are using to communicate with the coaches, and the info will be posted on Facebook as well as our SDHSAA website (www.sdhsaa.com), so anybody can look at those and get the information they need."