Marissa Baez of Whiting

Marissa Baez plays No. 1 singles for Whiting.

When you rank the top girls tennis programs in the Region, schools like Munster, Crown Point and Valparaiso quickly come to mind.

Chances are, Whiting didn't make your list.

"We're a small school. People don't know a lot about us. They don't expect a lot from us," No. 1 singles player Marissa Baez said. "We've had some pretty good players the last seven years."

With its 5-0 shutout of Clark on Friday, the Oilers (15-1) extended their string of sectional titles to seven. Suffice it to say, it's the quietest streak in the state, where it ranks 13th in duration.

"People are surprised to hear we've won seven sectionals in a row," coach Mark Harnew said. "They don't realize we actually have a nice little tennis program here."

A doubles player at Griffith, Harnew was the Panthers coach for five years before coming to the Oil City in 2015. At that point, he figured he'd come on board with coach Arthur Young, the architect of the program, but when Young stepped down, Harnew took over.

The staff already included former Highland boys and girls coach Adam Baez, who had Aby and Vanessa Madrigal win a state doubles title with the Trojans. His three daughters, Brianna, Marissa and Elena, along with the four Huss sisters, Hope, Faith, Grace and Serena, have been at the core of Whiting's success over this winning pan.

"I've been lucky to have a lot of veteran coaches helping out," Harnew said. "There's been a Baez and a Huss on the team the last nine years."

Marissa has played No. 1 singles the last two years, assuming the spot from sister Brianna. Alena, a sophomore, plays two doubles with Nicole Jovceski. Senior twins Hope and Faith Huss play No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles, respectively, Faith teaming with Julianna Scivinsky. McKenna Hetzel rounds out the lineup at No. 3 singles.

"We're all good friends outside of the team," Marissa Baez said. "They're fun to play with. We have a great time together. When we're winning, on top, there's more energy."

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With two sets of sisters on the team, it makes sense that their hashtag is tennis family.

"They watch out for each other, they encourage each other," Harnew said. "They're pretty head strong. They don't give up many points. A lot of positions, we've lost a first set, get down 4-1, 5-1, then fight back to win 7-5."

For all of Whiting's recent success, Harnew knew this was a particularly pivotal year with a lineup featuring four seniors. Hence, the motto, "All in." The group has made it to the regional every year of their high school careers but would like to make an impact this time. Its last regional win came in 2013 against Andrean.

"For the seniors, this is it, this is our year to prove ourselves," Harnew said. "We don't want to settle on just a sectional. We want to dig deep and go for it."

The task, as always will be a tall one as Crown Point awaits in Tuesday semifinals at Highland. The Oilers' only loss was to Lake Central, which was blanked by C.P. in the sectional.

"It's the same David and Goliath mindset," Harnew said. 'We lost 4-0, but it was pretty competitive all the way, so I think we gained some confidence though we lost, that we can compete against bigger schools."

The Oilers lost 5-0 to L.C. last year and 4-1 to C.P. the prior two years.

"Hopefully, we'll have a positive attitude going into the match," Baez said. "It's a mental game with tennis. You can't get down on yourself before the match or you've already lost. It's bittersweet. I'm so excited but at the same time, we're all seniors."

However and whenever it ends, Harnew has already tasked the underclassmen with the challenge of keeping the momentum going next season.

"There'll be a lot of hitting over the summer," he said. "The younger players have seen the success in the program. We have to instill the sense that it's up to them to keep it going, to work hard to carry on the tradition."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@mwi.com.


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.