For most freshmen, taking the court Saturday morning in a semistate match against the No. 2 team in the state would be a daunting task.
But when Nikki Heiniger steps up against Carmel at LaPorte’s Kesling Park, she will carry with her an extra weapon -- family tradition.
Her brother, Jack, is a senior on the boys team that made it to semistate last year. Her sister, Rachel, played No. 1 singles for the 2010 team that made it to regional.
“They are both a big help to me,” Heiniger said. “They both make time to hit with me, to help work on my game strokes. They provide a lot of tough competition that makes me a better player.”
Heiniger, and the rest of the Mustangs, will need every edge they can get when they take on No. 2 Carmel this morning at Kesling Park.
“We know that Carmel is undefeated and ranked No. 2,” Heiniger said. “We know that we have to play our best in order to hang with them.”
The No. 8 Mustangs (20-1) didn't play Carmel as a team during the year. The No. 2 doubles team did play against Carmel’s No. 2 doubles in an invite earlier in the season and lost. But since then, coach Bill Heuer has switched players at both doubles positions.
“There is not a lot of familiarity between the teams this year,” Heuer said. “But that might be good for us. We need to just focus on executing our game plan and playing our type of game. These girls can beat anybody in the state if they are playing up to their capabilities.”
Munster always takes a large following with them to postseason matches, thanks to the large number of siblings that have played for the program.
Coaches and administrators came up with 36 surnames, a total of 80 student-athletes who have donned the red and white.
“It’s a pretty big deal, when you look at how many different names you have,” Heuer said. “Munster tennis is a family tradition that goes back about 40 years.”
Heiniger has played USTA tournaments for years, which will help with the nerves today.
“Team tennis is different,” Heiniger said. “You want to do well for your team as much as you do for yourself. It’s an extra added pressure, but it is also an extra added motivation.”
Heuer is not worried about the pressure aspect of that match.
“This is what these girls have worked so hard for,” Heuer said. “They wanted to show everyone that they belonged at this level. Nikki is a freshman, but she has played in several very big matches. She played some very tough competition this year and has a 20-5 record to show for it. Plus I think she has learned a lot from her losses.”
Plus Heiniger has her extra weapon.
“I have watched my brother and sister over the years and picked up on how they handled these types of situations,” she said. “I saw some things I would emulate and some I would do a little differently. I hope to be able to use some of that Saturday when I need it.”
While the Mustangs are glad they have advanced this far, they are not in a “just happy to be here” mentality.
“We want to make it to the state level at Indianapolis,” Heiniger said. “We are not ready to be done yet.”