Last season was a magical one for the Whiting tennis team.
The Oilers finally beat long-time nemesis’ Wheeler and Bishop Noll en route to a second-place finish in the Greater South Shore Conference, losing only to champion Marquette Catholic.
They won the E.C. Central Sectional by virtue of victories over the Clark, the host Cardinals, and Bishop Noll. Two of those wins were 5-0 shutouts.
Then the Oilers advanced to the regional, where they beat Hobart before falling to Munster in the championship round.
The Oilers won 15 matches on the year, the most in school history.
Fast forward to 2013. Whiting graduated four seniors, including their No. 1 and No. 2 singles players.
“Not only did we lose our most successful and senior players,” coach Art Young said, “but we lost our leaders.”
The players who returned do not intend to go quietly.
“Yes, we have some holes to fill,” junior Grace Huss said, “But we have the talent and the conviction to not only fill the holes, but we better than we were last year."
Huss’ optimism is matched by her determination.
At No. 3 singles last season, Huss went 15-3. It was her first season playing a major role on the team.
“It was exciting to be involved in so many matches that meant something,” she said. “I like the way I responded to the challenge.”
In the offseason, Huss knew she had an opportunity to step up and make a difference. She worked out daily with her father, who played tennis college. She joined a local tennis league and played in matches all summer.
“Between the two, I played tennis almost every day,” Huss said. “I worked a lot on improving my game. I did a lot of drills on my backhand, which was my weak link. I think I got a lot better.”
The Oilers will need more this season than a good backhand. They will need leadership.
Huss knew it, and volunteered to be team captain. She made sure to let her coaches and her peers know she felt she was ready for the job.
“Usually, we make a senior (the) team captain,” Huss said, “and we have two seniors, so one or both of them may end up as captain. I just wanted to let everyone know that I thought I could do the job and was willing to do it.”
Huss knows that this year will be more difficult than last year.
“We are not going to sneak up on anybody this season,” she said. “We might have caught a couple of teams off guard last season. That won’t happen this time around. Teams will be ready for us.”
That’s where leadership comes in, according to Huss.
“We can’t let any of that get into our heads,” she said. “We have to have the confidence in our game to play our way. As long as we do, we’ll be ok. We have some really talented players who are going to move up from JV. It’s not going to be the skills, it’s going to be the mental state.”
Pretty perceptive for a junior, according to Young.
“Grace has a very good handle on what it is going to (take to) have another successful season like last year,” he said. “And she does not seem to be intimidated by the challenge.”
No she does not. She is relishing the challenge.
“I am ready,” she said, “and our team is ready. It’s going to be a great season.”