LEXINGTON, Ky. – Graduating from high school is supposed to be a joyful time, not one when you have to make a potentially heart wrenching decision.
But Sacred Heart senior tennis players Natalie Dahlem, Isabelle Kuo, Madeline Wagner and Lucy Herrington had to choose whether to attend graduation or play in Sunday’s team state championship match.
Head coach Jacob McGill and the school gave their players a choice and the four decided to walk with their classmates at graduation, something that happens only once in a lifetime.
“The four seniors that are at their graduation right now have worked hard for us the last four years,” McGill said. “We’ve won two state titles with those girls and they have competed day in and day out. It is what it is. I’m happy for what they have accomplished on the court and in the classroom. I’m happy that they are at their graduation.”
It was McCracken County’s second straight team state title. The Valkyries won the two previous crowns before the Mustangs took last year’s.
Sacred Heart had to enter the match down 1-0 because the KHSAA allows teams to have only three girls as replacements. That allowed McCracken County’s Mesa Trimm to win by default.
McCracken County junior Michelle McKamey defeated Sacred Heart freshman Ella Rueff 6-0, 6-1 in the No. 1 singles match.
“It was obviously very difficult,” Rueff said. “Now that I have gotten to play against her I learned about what I need to improve. Going into it I didn’t feel any pressure because she’s one of the best players in the state and I knew it was going to be difficult.”
Rueff, who normally played No. 2 singles this season, had to face the defending individual state champ.
“I’m happy Ella had that experience and glad she competed the way she did,” McGill said. “She mentioned to me a minute ago that she had nothing to lose and didn’t feel any pressure. Michelle is a phenomenal player and still has another year of high school tennis left and she will only get better. I hope Ella sees that she can compete with players like that.”
The Mustangs’ Taylor Sprouse defeated junior Kailey King 6-0, 6-1 in the No. 2 singles match to secure the championship.
McCracken County’s Madelyn Kauffman and Sophia Shiber were leading sophomores Abby Birk and Samantha Higgins 6-3, 1-2 when their doubles match was abandoned.
“The seniors gave us a little bit of a pep talk last night in the hotel,” Birk said. “They were really apologetic that they weren’t going to be there because they wanted to be here so bad and win a state championship. But they told us to go out there give them our very best even though it would be difficult.”
Sacred Heart freshman Natalie Chou and sophomore Kennedy Martin were trailing Danni Poat and Shelby Puryear 6-3, 3-0 when their match was halted.
While it was bittersweet, the experience was beneficial to the underclassmen as the Valkyries will be favorites to win the Seventh Region again next year and likely have another shot at getting back to the title round.
“With the circumstances being what they are and the way the girls competed against a very good team, I think they have to be proud of themselves,” McGill said. “I think playing in this type of situation gives them something to look forward to next year. I hope that what they take away from the situation is motivation to work hard to get better and make sure the result is different next year.”
Sacred Heart defeated Elizabethtown 3-0 in the first round, Notre Dame 3-0 in the quarterfinals and Highlands 3-0 in the semifinals to secure a spot in the championship match.