ANDERSON — Even in the first match of the season with her doubles partner junior Allie Hueston, Alexandria sophomore Abbie Miller knew she and her teammate were in for a special season.
The two had been paired together the season before during Miller’s freshman season and her first year playing tennis, advancing to the first round of the regionals with their Tiger teammates before bowing out.
But with the help of playing together more in the summer and an intense winter conditioning program, the doubles tandem was more prepared to make a deeper run into the state tournament this spring.
“I think that at the beginning of the season when we first came off and we played our first match, we both walked off the court, and we both realized that we had been working hard, and it was going to pay off,” Miller said. “We were connecting a lot better, and it just helped throughout the season.”
Alexandria girls’ tennis coach Matt DeVault said that he could tell early on that his girls were much tougher and battle-tested than they had been last season as they tried to learn each other’s game and play as a team instead of two separate girls on the court.
The pair’s accomplishments earned them the HB’s Players of the Year for girls tennis.
During the Delta Eight Team Invitational on April 27, Miller and Hueston pulled off two tough victories that DeVault said last year the girls wouldn’t have been able to clinch.
Against a state-ranked Fort Wayne Carroll doubles team, Miller and Hueston managed to grind out the match for the Tigers’ sole point in a 4-1 loss to the Chargers. Against a Batesville doubles team in their third match of the day, Alexandria’s No. 1 doubles team battled back from early deficits in two sets to push both to tiebreakers, winning both and adding one point in a 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs.
“Last year, they would have struggled to keep faith in each other and find ways to fight it out,” DeVault said. “This year, they found ways to keep the ship going the right way.”
Hueston said that throughout the season, she and Miller were able to lean on each other more in tight situations like the matches against Carroll and Batesville. No longer did one person have a bad match followed by the other; they both knew whenever they walked onto the court, their teammate would always have their back.
“This year no one had to carry anybody,” Hueston said. “We just did what needed to be done.
“I just think I can trust her with anything. I can count on her to do whatever needs to be done. It wasn’t like it was just me, and I had to hope it came to me. Sometimes I could hope it went to her.”
Thier chemistry on the court allowed them to cruise past sectionals with a victory before moving past the opening rounds of regionals, far beyond where Hueston said she or Miller thought they would be.
After shaking off a week’s worth of rust in their semi-finals match victory (6-2, 6-2) against Benton Central’s Alissa Brouilette and Sophie Marquie, Miller and Hueston moved on to the finals where they would face the previous year’s state finals runners-up in Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger’s Elizabeth Maxson and Audrey Rang.
DeVault recognized the Bishop Dwenger team’s success in the previous year’s tournament, but he didn’t inform his girls, feeling like it would only cause them more pressure.
Without the weight of knowing the tall task they were up against, Miller and Hueston won the first game of the first set against Maxson and Rang, but DeVault said the Saints duo quickly woke up after they cruised through an easy 6-1, 6-0 semi-finals victory.
Rang, one of the best high school doubles players DeVault had ever seen, took over the match, and once Miller and Hueston got back into rhythm, it was a little too late.
“We didn’t lose our heads, but we could see there’s another level even higher than us that we’re striving to get to, and it kinda opened our eyes to ‘Here’s what our next goal to try and reach’,” DeVault said.
But Miller said she and Hueston took the defeat in stride. They had made it farther than they had dreamed that season, and after the fact, they realized they had lost to a very worthy opponent who went on to finish fourth in the state tournament.
They got to see firsthand the type of talent and dedication that it would take to make it past the regional round during Hueston’s senior year.
“I think we were ready, but it was a team we hadn’t seen, and they were strong, and they were the strongest team we had seen,” Miller said. “It was good experience for us to get to play them because now we know what we have to look forward to next year.”
DeVault said that he hasn’t decided yet whether to keep the duo together next season, saying it all depends on what’s best for the team as a whole and what gives them the best chance for team victories. He added, though, that whether or not they’re playing on the court together, he knows they can both impact the Tigers no matter what spot they’re playing in.
“If I plan on keeping them together, they have a really high ceiling because they’re still learning,” DeVault said. “You’re talking about a junior and a sophomore that are just now seeing how good they can be at tennis.
“I’m not worried about if they’re together or not because I think they’re going to help our program both ways, and they’re both going to have a great year.”
Singles Sarah-Kate Brenner, Alexandria Alexys Rastetter, Frankton Carly Wilson, Pendleton Heights Doubles Abbie Miller/Allie Hueston, Alexandria Kristin Mercker/Becky Lagle, Madison-Grant