LANSING | In a perfect world, the Illiana Christian girls tennis team could send as many as five or six girls to the state tournament in Mt. Prospect.
A 3-2 victory over Marian Catholic on Wednesday improved the Vikings' record to 16-2 on the season.
Coach Rob Lagerwey has called it one of the best teams he's ever coached.
"I think this year we really have a lot of individual talent," said Vikings senior Lydia Kreykes, a St. John resident. "We're pretty balanced between singles and doubles. We've been working really hard at it, and we've been able to pull off some good wins."
But when the sectional rolls around, the team will be very short-handed.
The annual Illiana Christian senior class trip to Washington D.C. falls over the weekend of the state finals. That means the seniors, all of whom elected to go on the trip, won't be able to take part in the sectional.
"It's definitely a bummer that we can't play in the sectional," said Kreykes, who is a No. 2 doubles player along with fellow senior Amanda DeGraff. "I think (Amanda) and I would have done really well and possibly made it downstate. But it's still good motivation as a senior to just end the year strong."
There is no team advancement from sectionals, only individual qualifiers for state, so the underclassmen won't be affected by the lack of seniors in the sectional.
Two of the seniors bowing out at the end of the regular season are Alicia Smit and Hannah Lagerwey, Illiana's No. 1 singles team and two-time state qualifiers.
"It's kind of hard to basically decide between going back downstate or going on the class trip," Smit said. "But the class trip is a real staple in the senior year at Illiana, and it's just something you don't want to miss.
"Since we've had the state experience before, we decided that it would be good to go on the trip and also open up more chances for some of our juniors to get to state."
Smit is confident that the younger players will still have success in the postseason, for the same reason the team has been so successful all year: depth.
"We just have a really deep team," Smit said. "Even if some of our higher levels lose, we can count on the lower levels to pull through, so we can take the overall win. There's no drop-off in talent anywhere. I think we're all just really good players."
While depth has won some big matches for Illiana this season, Rob Lagerwey says that experience has a lot to do with it as well.
"There's also a lot of senior leadership, and upperclassmen leadership in general," Lagerwey said. "Both of my singles players are juniors; my first two doubles are all seniors. Third doubles has one senior and one junior on it.
"So I have a lot of people that have been playing for a while and really have worked on their game. Now they're reaping the fruit of all that hard work."
Lagerwey's junior singles players are Zhavia Gray (No. 1) and Rachel Blaauw (No. 2). Gray has been to the state tournament in each of her first two seasons, and Lagerwey says Blaauw is one of the better players in the area.
But Blaauw, and whoever Lagerwey brings up for doubles, will be unseeded in the sectional, so any success will be largely determined by the luck of the draw.
For the seniors though, the season ends Tuesday. And what better way to end it than against archrival Chicago Christian.
"It's a really weird feeling, ending the season like this," Smit said. "I was talking to Hannah before the (Marian) match, and I said, ‘Let's just try to have fun these last two matches. Let's try to end our senior year on a high note.'"