Munster’s Jessica Rooth earned a spot on the IHSAA All-State first team last year at the No. 1 singles position.
She led the Mustangs all the way to the semistate, where they lost their first match of the year to Carmel, 4-1. The 'Stangs finished the year 20-1, ready to take the next step this season.
But along the way, Rooth suffered a painful back injury, which derailed her progress.
“I have a curvature in my spine,” she said. “It is a chronic condition. But it wasn’t bothering me until the end of last year and the beginning of the offseason. I had a lot of pain and found my mobility was limited.”
Instead of hitting the offseason USTA tournament cycle, Rooth entered an intense physical therapy program.
“A lot of the exercises dealt with mobility and flexibility,” she said. “They were tough sessions that left me pretty sore.”
When the team gathered back together this spring, Rooth was still impacted by her injury. After several discussions with coach Bill Heuer, they decided to slot Rooth at No. 3 singles to start the season.
“That was tough on Jessica,” Heuer said. “She was All-State as a sophomore, and very high up the state rankings. Now, she was sliding down to No. 3 singles because of an injury.”
Over the course of the season, Rooth’s back injury has steadily improved. One month ago, she told Heuer she was ready for challenge matches to try and work her way back up the depth chart. She won the matches and reclaimed her spot at No. 1.
The real breakthrough came in the Mustangs' sectional match against arch-rival Highland. Rooth defeated Vanessa Madrigal 6-2, 7-5, the first time she had ever beaten her friend and rival.
“She always beats me, so this was extra special," Rooth said. "Playing matches against friends is really tough, but I'm so happy that I was able to finally get her."
Heuer noted that Madrigal defeated Rooth 6-2, 6-1 just one week earlier in a conference match.
“That shows how much Jessica has improved, both mentally and physically,” Heuer said. “She’s playing her best at the right time.”
The No. 14 Mustangs will face off against Crown Point in the first round of the Highland Regional on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the finals. Munster defeated the Bulldogs 4-1 during the regular season.
“We are playing really well as a team right now,” Rooth said. “We’ve won our last several matches in pretty convincing fashion. We are playing with a lot of confidence.”
If the Mustangs win their 28th regional championship, they will need all the confidence they can get. They would face Carmel, ranked No. 1 in the state, in the first round of the semistate.
Rooth appears unfazed.
“If we are playing our game, we can hang with them,” she said. “We’ve come a long way this season.”
Although she was speaking about the team, her statement was a succinct summary of her own successful road back.