CHILLICOTHE ◊ Chillicothe High School sophomores Sydnie Whiteside and Ali Stephens are headed to the Class 1 high school girls' state tennis tournament.
The dynamic pair of 10th graders will compete in the individuals singles competition at Springfield Oct. 19-20 after winning their sectional matches on their home Daryl Danner Memorial Park courts this (Monday) afternoon.
Whiteside did it convincingly, as expected, as the undefeated (in singles) Lady Hornet steamrolled Erica McDonald of Kansas City: St. Pius X 6-1, 6-2.
Stephens, on the other hand, was an underdog to District 15 champion Cami Pendleton of St. Joseph: Benton, a 2-time district champ and 2011 state qualifier who had topped Stephens in straight sets a couple of weeks ago in the semifinals of the Midland Empire Conference tournament. However, perhaps aided by greater familiarity and comfort with the often-windy conditions at the Danner Park courts which were in strong evidence today, Stephens battled Pendleton on even terms through the first 10 games of the opening set before claiming it 7-5 and then punching her own state ticket with a 6-3 set-2 triumph.
Perhaps the pivotal moments of the Stephens victory came late in the first set when, after failing to hold serve in the 10th game when she had a chance to claim the set 6-4, the CHS sophomore didn't panic.
Instead, she charged back from down 15-30 in the next game on Pendleton's serve to win three points in a row to go back in front, 6-5.
Serving again with the set either to become hers or go to a 12-points tiebreaker, Stephens served out the set at love to put herself in command.
From there on, the Lady Hornet, who, like Whiteside, has outstanding court coverage and ball-retrieval ability, had the psychological and scoring upper hand, winning with some room to spare.
According to former long-time CHS girls' tennis head coach Amy Baker, who was on hand to lend her moral support to the girls she coached a year ago, the only time two Chillicothe players went to state for singles play were mid-to-late 1990s standouts Katie Stephens (no relation to Ali) and Emily Robinson, who did it as sophomores in 1995.
K. Stephens and Robinson went back to state, but as a doubles entry the next two years, cruising to the state title in 1996 before finishing fifth the next year when they lost to the eventual champions from St. Louis in the second round.
The qualification of both Whiteside and A. Stephens for state in singles ends a 4-year absence from that competition for Chillicothe after it sent someone in singles eight years in a row (2001-08). That consecutive-years run was begun by Ali Stephens' older sister, Megan, who also had gone in 1999 and was on hand yesterday to see her sister follow in her sophomore footsteps. M. Stephens' 2001 appearance was followed by Allison Conrad's three trips in a row and then four straight by Ellyn Turner.
None of those 2001-08 appearances brought a place finish for the Lady Hornets involved until Turner took fourth in her senior year. Whiteside would seem initially to have a decent chance of placing in the top six.