Jun. 5—Sullivan’s unbeaten Golden Arrows faced their first ranked opponent of the season Friday afternoon in the high school state quarterfinals.
And while sixth-ranked Homestead eventually prevailed 4-1, the unranked Arrows showed they should be a top-20 team themselves if there’s a postseason poll. (It’s hard to imagine Wes Kirk not being the state’s Coach of the Year either, if there’s justice in the world.)
Kirk said afterward that he would have liked to have played a ranked team or two prior to the tournament — “We didn’t get a bunch of time to practice [against a team that strong],” he said — but his players proved they were ready to do so.
“The girls came to play,” Kirk added proudly. “They never went into it thinking they couldn’t win . . . we sure made [the Spartans] earn this match.”
Start with the match Sullivan won. In addition to its ranking, Homestead was an unfortunate matchup for the Arrows because the Spartans’ strength — No. 3 singles and both doubles teams — coincided with two of Sullivan’s best three records.
Lexie Baker and Courtney Lueking let the first set at No. 2 doubles get away from them, losing 7-5 after having a 5-3 lead at one point, and trailed 5-0 in the tiebreaker of the second set. Had they lost 7-5, 7-6, the Arrow duo would have had plenty to be proud of.
“We started off not really knowing what to expect,” Lueking said.
But even though the team outcome had long been decided, Baker and Lueking weren’t going down without a fight. They rallied from that 0-5 deficit for six straight points and won the tiebreaker 8-6, then routed the Homestead pair 6-0 in the third set.
“We came on the court ready for that third set,” Baker said moments after it was over. “We said, ‘We’re going to take it 6-0.’ “
At the top of the lineup, Sullivan’s Hanna Burkhart won the first set at No. 1 singles and frustrated Homestead’s top player almost to tears. Burkhart is not the hardest hitters among the state’s No. 1 singles players but she, like all the Arrows, knows a few things about ball retrieval, pace and variety of shots to make herself hard to play against.
“She was a great opponent,” Burkhart said graciously about Homestead’s Olivia Creech after the match. “She had a really hard shot, and she started getting it in more [in the last two sets].”
The other three matches went to the Spartans in straight sets, but not because the Sullivan players went down easily.
“My first hope was that we’d be in the points,” said Kirk, admitting he didn’t really know what to expect from Friday’s match either, “and after an hour and a half, we still had three [spots] on the court and a chance to win the match. So we exceeded [those expectations].”
“We played really well,” said freshman Sarah Francis, a member of the No. 1 doubles team. “We went to deuce multiple times, and if we won a few more of those [we could’ve won our match].”
There may have been tears among the Arrows as the outcome became apparent, but if there were they dried up quickly.
“I’m bummed that we didn’t move on,” said Burkhart, “but I’m so glad we made it this far.”
“It’s tough knowing we lost at state,” said Peyton Sisil, the other member of the No. 1 doubles team, “but we never would’ve imagined we’d come this far.”
“I didn’t expect it, but it’s been really fun,” said No. 2 singles player Paige Chickadaunce. “I’m so proud of us for believing in ourselves and playing the game the way we’ve done all year. It was great for our seniors to finish out like that . . . the seniors are great role models who helped us a lot.”
“I knew it would be tough,” said senior Annie Smith, losing for the first time this season at No. 3 singles, “but we already made history, so whatever happened would be OK.
“We didn’t know what other teams might be like,” Smith continued, “but this has been incredible. I’m proud of my team and how far we’ve come.”
“I never would have thought we’d be in the state finals right now,” Francis added.
“We’ve had so many huge milestones this year,” said Lueking. “It’s been unbelievable, and it was incredible to do it as a team. [Getting to the state finals] wasn’t even on our radar.”
“It was a year with a lot of firsts,” Kirk pointed out. “First regional, first semistate, first time in the state finals, first undefeated season.”
“I’m sorry that it’s over, but we gave it a really good run,” said Baker. “I’m so proud of this team for working so hard. We came in with no pressure, and we were just seeing how far we could take it.”
“It’s been such a wild ride,” Sisil said. “Team atmosphere is what’s gotten us this far.”