By GREG MENGELT
Abby Ellis has known nothing but success during her regular-season tennis career.
The Borden Braves’ girls tennis team has won eight Southern Athletic Conference titles in a row, and it would take a major update to keep them from No. 9 in 2014. The past two seasons, they’ve won all five SAC matches by 5-0 scores.
Borden hasn’t lost a regular-season match in nearly three full years — since Ellis was the Braves’ No. 3 singles player as a freshman.
As the team’s No. 1 player the past two seasons, Ellis has played a key role in the program’s success.
“She knows that she’s going to get the best competition regardless,” Borden coach Ross Shauver said, “whether we run into a team we think we can beat handily or a great team. She knows she always has to play well and, to be honest, I think that helps her. It keeps her from ever having letdowns.”
However, the postseason hasn’t been so kind. To be more specific, Silver Creek has been mighty unkind. The 11-time defending sectional champion Dragons have eliminated the Braves each of the past three years, including last season when Ellis was one of three Borden players/doubles teams to fall in a 3-2 heartbreaker. The Dragons have beaten Borden 3-2 in each of the past three seasons.
In order to win a sectional, the Braves may have to overcome a loss by Ellis, who will likely face arguably the area’s best player in Silver Creek’s Kat Hebble.
That doesn’t lessen Ellis’ role in a potential sectional run, Shauver said.
“What she brings to the team is constantly going up against the rest of the singles players [in practice], making them better. She makes us better as a team,” Shauver said. “I know it’s a hard thing to know that when she runs into Silver Creek, she’s up against an impossible situation. But her role is extremely important.”
Last Saturday, Borden breezed to a New Albany Invitational championship against a field that included the host Bulldogs, who have won 16 straight sectional crowns. In two weeks, the Braves will face four-time defending sectional champion Jeffersonville, which the Braves beat a year ago, in the Jeff Invitational. Ellis beat New Albany’s Lauren Hoffer 6-4, 6-1 to take the No. 1 singles crown last weekend.
On Thursday, Ellis answered questions from sports editor Greg Mengelt about the program’s success, the 2014 season so far, last year’s disappointment and the Braves’ quest for their first-ever sectional crown in the News and Tribune’s ongoing On the Spot series.
QUESTION: Let’s go back to last year. How disappointing was another 3-2 loss to Silver Creek when you guys thought you were the better team going in?
ELLIS: “It was very disappointing. We had been working so hard all year long, and it was one of our major goals. But I can’t really complain because I knew I had another year. But I felt bad for the seniors. But this year I’m hoping is the year — hopefully.”
Q: I know you have increased the difficulty of your schedule the past couple of years. Is that something you like or are the winning streaks more important to you?
ELLIS: “I would much rather go out and face tougher teams. I mean, sure, a winning season is great. Undefeated was great last year. We did have some tough opponents that we came out on top of. I love competition. It makes it more fun. If you kill everybody, it’s not exactly the funnest.”
Q: Coming into this year, obviously the sectional at the end of the year is the goal. What do you hope to accomplish leading up to the sectional in the regular season?
ELLIS: “Obviously, conference. I’m sure we’re going for another undefeated season. But things happen, [poor] matches happen. I think, honestly, one of the major goals is becoming a better team. Teamwork. If you have people fighting, it’s not going to be fun at all, so I think having good team chemistry is a good goal for us this year.”
Q: Sectional is obviously going to be on your minds all year. Is this year’s team finally the team that’s good enough to win a sectional?
ELLIS: “In my opinion, I say yes. Of course, I think we’re good enough to win a sectional. But sectional is definitely tough for us. Silver Creek is definitely a really good team. And [Hebble] is really good. Yeah, she’s really good. It will definitely be tough, but I think we can do it.”
Q: How big would it be for you, the team and the school to win that first tennis sectional championship ever?
ELLIS: “I’ve won sectionals in basketball. But for me, a tennis sectional would be great. I would love it. I know the school would love it because it would be the first one in history. It would definitely be a huge deal. It’s something new. I just love winning, in general.”
Q: Speaking of tough competition, I know your job is the toughest. Playing No. 1 singles, do you relish that situation or dread seeing No. 1 players every time you step on the court?
ELLIS: “No, I actually it’s nice to see where you stand against players that good. Even if I get killed, it’s not that heartbreaking. I got to play somebody that good. It’s nice to even get to that point of playing someone that good.”
Q: Last Saturday, you played in the New Albany Invitational. There were some pretty good teams there and you blew everyone out, winning four of the five individual championships.
ELLIS: “Yeah, we did.”
Q: Was that a statement you made?
ELLIS: “Um, I think a little bit. It was a quiet statement of, ‘We’re here.’ Last year, it was so close. We tied with two other teams, I think it was. This year we came in and took it away. Everybody played really well in that tournament.”
Q: How did you feel about how you played personally?
ELLIS: “I think there’s always room for improvement, but I think I did OK for my first outing.”
Q: Being the No. 1 singles player is always tough. A lot of times you go into a match knowing your team is going to win easily, but the other team has that one girl in the school who’s awesome. That happens a lot in high school tennis. Is that frustrating for you?
ELLIS: “Not really. It happens. We win as a team, and honestly, the team comes first.”
Q: You have the Jeffersonville Invitational coming up next week. How important are those big tournaments to you and your team’s development?
ELLIS: “I think they’re really good for us. We won’t play those teams, or see that type of competition, again in the regular season. It’s a different way of play, so it will be nice to go in there and see what we can do.”
Q: You were part of a basketball team that won three sectional championships in four years. How special was this season compared to the other two?
ELLIS: “I loved this year. This year was by far my favorite sectional. I loved the other ones, but I think [it was the most special] since it was my senior year, my last year. Our team became so close. We had so many younger players come up and help and it was great. I loved it this year.”