By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
Floyd Central’s girls’ tennis team made history by making it to the state championship match on Saturday.
The Highlanders fell short of the title with a 4-1 loss to Carmel, but this Saturday, Floyd Central may yet get its state championship.
The one winner in Saturday’s match against the Greyhounds was the No. 1 doubles team of Whitney Batliner and Dana Frank. The Highlander duo is 19-2 overall this season and 9-0 in the state tournament.
Starting Friday, they’ll get a chance to bring home Floyd’s first-ever tennis championship at the IHSAA doubles state finals.
“It’s now or never,” Batliner said. “I just hope we can go out there and play good and bring it home. That would be awesome.”
Despite being three wins away from a state title, Batliner and Frank have hesistated to dream about winning it all. Instead, they’re concentrating on getting the first win and making it the final day of competition on Saturday.
“One match at a time,” Batliner said. “I try to visualize shaking hands and being the state champions, but we have to get through the first round first.”
“I’m trying not to get ahead of myself and start thinking about the final match,” Frank added. “I have to tell myself to focus on the first match. But it would be pretty cool to make some history.”
Thanks to the team’s success, Batliner and Frank drew a first-round bye and got an automatic spot in the quarterfinals. At 2 p.m. Friday, they’ll face either St. Bend St. Joseph’s combination of Emily Lyon and Maddie Minaudo or the Fort Wayne Dwenger pair of Elizabeth Maxon and Audrey Ring.
The only match Maxon and Ring have lost in the last two years was in last year’s state doubles championship against eventual champions Abigail and Vanessa Madrigal of Highland.
“I’m sure they have to be good. Obviously, they’re in the state finals,” Batliner said.
The Floyd coaching staff believes the tough tests Batliner and Frank have faced all season will play off on Friday and Saturday.
“Any team in the state finals is a good team, but we like their chances,” Floyd Central assistant coach James Markert said. “They have the advantage of being able to get down there and watch the first match. I think that’s going to help.”
Batliner and Frank have blitzed their competition for the past three weeks. They are 9-0 in the state tournament and haven’t dropped a set. They whipped Carmel’s No. 1 team of Amy Brentlinger and Linnea Peters, 6-2, 6-3.
They’ve dropped just 15 games in nine tournament matches.
Markert said that the Highlander combo has to take the same mentality that they’ve taken in the team competition into this weekend’s doubles tourney.
“Since regionals and semistate, we warm up as a team and get on the court. The next thing you know, they’re off the court with a win,” the Floyd assistant said. “These two are just rolling and I went them to go in with the same mentality and pretend like it’s a team match.”
Batliner teamed with Chelsey Shackleford her first two years and the duo made three state finals appearances — one as a team in 2011 and two as a doubles team in 2010 and 2011.
In 2010, Batliner and Shackleford made it to the semifinals as a doubles team and eventually finished fourth in the state. As a sophomore, Batliner combined with Shackleford to reach the semis again and finish third.
Last year with classmate Katherine Dauby, Batliner’s doubles team failed to make the finals for the only time. Miller and his staff made the change and paired the outgoing Batliner with the reserved Frank in 2013.
“Our coach put us together to see how we’d do in [summer] tournaments and we did well,” Batliner said. “We clicked right away. That’s why we’re here.”
The decision paid off.
“We knew Whitney was going to be the anchor and we just had to find somebody who was consistent,” Floyd Central head coach Rick Miller recalled. “Whitney has one of the best backhands in the state. We needed to find somebody who had a great cross-court forehand and Dana has that. Doubles is like fitting a puzzle together. I think they fit together really well.”
“I think they compliment each other very well,” Markert agreed. “You have Whitney out there who’s vocal. Dana is nice and calm. I think they’re a good pair. I think it took them a while to gel. In the last month, they’ve really come together.”
Frank played No. 3 singles for the Highlanders a year ago. At first, she was hesistant about about change. After winning 19 matches and making a state finals appearance, she’s happy to have joined the accomplished Batliner.
“It’s fun. I didn’t know what to expect at first,” Frank said. “I think I may like doubles more now than singles.”
“One day at practice,” Batliner explained, “she said, ‘I think I know how to play doubles now.’ That transition is tough. It’s a whole different game.”
The experiment has worked so well that the Batliner-Frank combination may have surpassed the great Batliner-Shackleford team. Now, Batliner says, the Highlanders may be in the perfect position to win their first tennis state championship.
“The last couple of years, we had to play over our heads [to win at state],” Batliner admitted. “This year, we don’t have to do that. As long as we play good tennis, anything’s possible.”
IHSAA DOUBLES STATE FINALS
First round, 10 a.m.
Carolina Combs-Meredith Goshell (17-0), Cathedral vs. Sydney Anderson-Sara Vanderkolk (8-10), Columbus North
Courtney Clark-Olivia Erekson (13-4), Northridge vs. Miranda Camp-Nicole Howe (7-4), Terre Haute South
Elizabeth Maxon-Audrey Ring (18-0), FW Dwenger vs. Emily Lyon-Maddie Minaudo, SB St. Joseph
Quarterfinals, 2 p.m.
Macie Elliott-Brenna Wu (13-0), Ev. Memorial vs. Combs-Goshell or Anderson Vanderkolk
Nikki Heininger-Paige Heuer (12-1), Munster vs. Natalie Alexander-Marissa Morrs (19-1), Delta
Hannah Klapper-Ali Lebovitz (12-4), Park Tudor vs. Clark-Erekson or Camp-Howe
Whitney Batliner-Dana Frank (19-2), Floyd Central vs. Maxson-Rang or Minaudo-Lyon
Semifinals, 10 a.m.
Championship, 2 p.m.