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Squires capture TRC crown with perfect campaign

RETURN: Manchester's Kelsey Eichenauer returns a shot during her match at No. 1 singles against Southwood on Monday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER - As conference titles are piling up at a historic rate from the Manchester girls’ tennis team, coach Joel Eichenauer has kept his team sharp and focused heading into sectional week.

The Squires dusted off another perfect season in Three Rivers Conference (TRC) play on Monday, making relatively quick work of Southwood for a 5-0 win as the final touch on an 8-0 conference season, locking up the program’s fourth consecutive TRC title.

“Well, I’m very proud of these young ladies,” Eichenauer said. “Especially these seniors that have worked hard four years in a row to come away with four straight conference titles. It’s quite an accomplishment. It’s the first time that’s been done in school history. This is a good match for us leading up to sectional. It’s been a good season.

“We’ve worked hard. We’ve faced some top teams in the state and we’ve played some teams that are gritty and tough and we just need to show up every match and be ready to play against them. Tonight was one of those. Southwood’s got some girls that made us play some good balls. I saw growth tonight. We’re peaking at the right time.”

All five matches of the night were straight-set wins for the Squires. Kelsey Eichenauer won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles over Baylee Swain. Halle Briner downed Madison Snyder at No. 2 singles and Eva Bazzoni knocked off Breklynne Swisher at No. 3 singles by matching 6-0, 6-1 scorelines.

There was little more resistance in doubles action for the Squires. Anna Osborne and Halie Wampler won 6-2, 6-1 over Allison Steele and Ariel Benner at No. 1 doubles while the Manchester duo of Morgan Stroud and Alyssa Marvel matched that scoreline in their No. 2 doubles win over Anne Ridgeway and Shyla Judy.

The victory on the night was a microcosm of the stranglehold the Squires have had on the TRC for much of the last three seasons. Manchester’s 8-0 mark this year matched their perfect record from last season. The last non-flawless TRC campaign from the Squires came in 2017 when they finished just 7-1. But that record came after a 1-1 start, making Monday’s TRC win the 23rd-straight TRC victory dating back to late April of 2017.

This team, like teams in recent years, has depth that makes them dangerous with nearly a dozen girls playing in varsity matches this season. But for Eichenauer, it’s the quality across his top ten players that separates them from previous iterations of the Squires.

“For several years in a row now, we’ve had depth,” Eichenauer said. “I would say what’s different about this team is from number one to number eight, nine or 10, there’s less of a spread then there has been. We’re strong in many ways. We don’t drop off very quickly with talent. 

“And the other thing that’s probably different is we didn’t have to replace one and two singles this year. Some of these years, you have to replace those top two spots and we didn’t have to replace those top two spots so we had some girls playing in some very comfortable spots a little lower down in the lineup. That was nice to have.

“We had some good senior leadership,” he added. “We’ve had that in the past. I think just the consistency, knowing we can do it again, some girls move on and graduate and more girls step in and I think they’re buying into that culture that someone’s up next year to do that same thing.”

The mental challenges have come at times this year. But a beefed-up schedule that featured half-a-dozen matches against ranked teams on the year helped keep the Squires sharp both mentally and physically as well.

Add in a mixture of an impending challenge from a local side and the necessity to keep improving has been made well-aware to the Squires this spring.

“We play in a tournament with three top-ten teams and played two individual matches against two other top-ten teams and another top-30 team,” Eichenauer said. “So, I think when they get to see that next level of tennis, that’s motivation in itself there. The other part of it is they know Peru’s...going to be a team to really reckon with next year so they know they have to keep getting better between now and a year from now. The underclassmen see that and know that and they’re pushing each other. And I think they’re still having fun. That’s the key. Having fun out here and making it enjoyable.”

With the sectional comprised entirely of TRC teams, Manchester will head into the postseason as the overwhelming favorites. Monday evening’s draw saw Manchester and Northfield receive byes into the second round with the Squires waiting on the winner of Peru-Wabash and the Norse meeting the winner of Southwood-Maconaquah.

A pair of triumphs this week will give the program a fourth-straight sectional title. It would be another unprecedented feat for the program. But the Squires are making a habit of turning the extraordinary into the ordinary.