Last year, the Mustang tennis season ended with a 3-2 loss in the regional semifinals to rival Highland. The loss understandably left a bad taste in the mouths of players.
Maybe none worse than freshman Jessica Rooth.
"My ankle was bothering me a lot at the end of last season," Rooth said. "I was playing through it, but it was impacting my game. It was very frustrating."
Once the season ended, Rooth rested her ankle for five full months.
"I didn't pick up a racquet during that time," she said. "I wanted to be completely healed for this tennis season. I think it was a good decision."
Rooth's observation is based on the success she has had this year at the No. 1 singles spot. Rooth sports a 12-3 record at the top spot, including a dramatic three-set win over Chesterton's Bobbi Modesto last week.
"Bobbi and I are friends, and I have played against her many times," Rooth said. "I never beat her until last week. That's when I knew I had taken a major step forward."
Coach Bill Heuer agreed that Rooth has shown significant improvement this year.
"Jessica also has impressive wins over Park Tudor and Brebeuf Jesuit," Heuer said. "She has really come into her own. A big reason for that has to do with knowing when to play big and when to play small."
Heuer said that last year, Rooth would always try to overpower her opponent.
"But this year she is smarter about choosing when to play a big shot," Heuer said. "She is waiting for the right time to use her power."
Rooth agreed with her coach's comments.
"I am a lot more patient in my play this season," she said. "I have to wait for the right moment to try a specific shot. Sometimes I just need to hit the ball back instead of trying to end the volley. The more patient I am the better."
Heuer believes patience is a sign of maturity.
"Jessica was only a freshman last year when she got pushed into the No. 1 spot," Heuer said. "That's a lot of pressure for a freshman. But she learned a lot from the experience, and that is paying off for her and the team this year."
The Times No. 1 Mustangs, ranked No. 8 in the state, go into postseason play undefeated (13-0).
"We are hoping to get a lot farther this year than we did last year," Rooth said, referring to the regional loss. "But we are trying to focus on one match at a time. If we all stay within ourselves and play smart, we should be OK."
This year, Munster and Highland find themselves in the same sectional, thanks to changes from the IHSAA. The Mustangs defeated the Trojans 3-2 in conference play back on April 19.
Heuer isn't taking anything for granted.
"Highland is always a tough match for us, and I don't expect anything different in the postseason," he said. "Our sectional string (35 straight titles) will be on the line, as well as our season. That should be plenty of motivation."