Tennis is often a strange trip for the athletes who play it as Hillsboro is one of the few “small” schools who have the sport. But in addition to competing against the Chathams, Sacred Heart-Griffins and Jerseyville’s of the world, along with their South Central Conference foes, the Lady Hiltoppers also had to deal with COVID-19 restrictions this season, which made the season even stranger.
“As a new head coach, COVID made coaching very difficult. So many rules from IHSA, (six pages) had to be followed. Sometimes coaching became second due to all the steps that had to followed for all team members to remain safe,” said first-year head coach Jodi Speiser, who had served as Jen Anderson’s assistant previously. “Also our COVID region for playing matches was small so we did not have near the amount of matches to play as a regular season. Regardless of the late start and the lack of matches, I thought we did quite well.”
Despite just eight matches and three tournaments on the schedule, the Lady Toppers persevered and came away with a few highlights from the 2020 campaign that featured eight seniors, Torrence Clark, Tressie Clinard, Meghan Garmon, Brook Ozier, Madi Devore, Ally Devore, Haley Major and Ella Pfeifer.
Hillsboro went 2-3 against South Central Conference competition, beating Vandalia 5-4 on the Vandals’ home court and 8-1 on Hillsboro’s senior night. In the road win, Paige Lucykow, Sally Mattson and Brook Ozier picked up singles victories, with Lucykow and Mattson and Meghan Garmon and Ozier earning doubles victories.
The senior night victory was Hillsboro’s strongest of the year, even though it came under some questionable weather conditions. Torrence Clark, Paige Lucykow, Ella Pfeifer, Sally Mattson, Meghan Garmon and Brook Ozier gave the Toppers a sweep of singles and allowed Coach Speiser to give seniors Tressie Clinard and Haley Major a shot at a doubles win.
Clinard and Major would deliver, as did Pfeifer and Clark, to finish off the 8-1 victory, Hillsboro’s biggest of the season.
The other conference matches would not go as well, with Greenville winning both their bouts and Roxana winning 8-1, with Sally Mattson getting the lone singles win. Mattson also picked up a singles win in a 7-2 loss to the Comets and teamed with Lucykow to claim the other point in the number two doubles match.
With Greenville unable to host their usual doubles tournament due to restrictions at Greenville University, Hillsboro would welcome the Comets and Vandalia to the Hillsboro Sports Complex on Sept. 12, for a round-robin with the three schools each providing six doubles teams.
Hillsboro would pick up six wins, with Paige Lucykow and Sally Mattson winning the number two bracket. Torrence Clark and Ella Pfeifer (number one), Meghan Garmon and Brook Ozier (number three), Tressie Clinard and Haley Major (number four) and Macy Shipman and Ruthie Mathews (number six) also picked up wins.
Clark would provide one of the biggest highlights of the year at the conference tournament on Oct. 10, when she finished third in singles. After beating Samantha Rittis 6-0, 6-2, Clark fell to Roxana’s Stephanie Kamp, who went on to win the championship. The Topper senior then beat Gracie Philpot 8-6 in the third place match to go out on a high note.
She wasn’t the only one to make it to the final four at conference. Paige Lucykow and Sally Mattson would finish fourth in the doubles portion of the event.
Unfortunately, the reason for all the precautions would catch up with Hillsboro not long after the conference tournament.
“We almost made the entire season until COVID raised its ugly head. The last two days of the season, sectionals, four of my varsity players were quarantined due to contact tracing,” Coach Speiser explained. “I was scrambling to replace my sectional team with JV players that weren’t quarantined. We played sectionals with players that did not have much playing experience. They played hard and gave it their all. I am very proud of the girls giving 110 percent effort through this difficult time.”
The experience didn’t break the Toppers in 2020 and should strengthen them in 2021, where they will return several key players from their starting six (Lucykow and Mattson), but will rely on some younger players to step up.
Regardless of their results, they have shown that they have the attitude to be good people on and off the court, which is more important in the long run.
“We may not have won every match but we constantly received compliments from players and coaches on how nice our team was,” Coach Speiser said. “That’s a victory that not many coaches can claim.”