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Familiar foes Giants, Indians meet in sectional

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Anyone who follows girls’ tennis expects Marion and Mississinewa to battle it out for the sectional championship on the Bill Beekman Courts.

Yet, more often than not, the Giants and Indians tend to meet in the first round rather than the final. It will happen again at 5 p.m. today with the winner advancing to play the other semifinal winner between Madison-Grant and Blackford.

Admission is free of charge.

“I’ve had 35 sectional (boys and girls) drawings since I’ve been at Mississinewa and twice we’ve drawn Blackford,” Indians coach Bruce Fleming said. “We’ve definitely drawn Marion more than anything ... that’s crazy.

“All the times we’ve got beat 3-2, it would have been nice to play a match in sectionals where kids get comfortable on the courts and get a match under our belts and get some momentum going into the Marion match,” added Fleming, whose team has never beaten the Giants in sectional play. “That’s the only bad thing about playing Marion right off the bat - we can’t get a match where it feels like a regular match rather than it feels like a big stage.”

Giants coach Doug Porter can sympathize with Fleming.

“I know, I know, the probabilities don’t work out well in this situation,” Porter said. “Most of my years we’ve drawn Mississinewa or Blackford in the opening round. Going into it, Mississinewa and Marion are the two strongest teams.”

Which is more often the case and definitely true this year. Marion (16-4) puts a 16-year sectional title win streak on the line against Mississinewa (14-2). The Giants pulled off a 3-2 regular season victory over the Indians.

Yet, that was when the Giants had No. 1 singles player Kayla Dubuque, who since torn the ACL in her right knee and is done for the season. Porter has restructured his lineup, moving senior Elizabeth Wuertley from No. 1 doubles to No. 3 singles and moving Makenzie Nelson and Claire Hendricks up one spot.

Wuertley had won 74 matches playing No. 1 doubles over the past four seasons and is 3-0 at singles. In what could be the pivotal match, Wuertley will play the Indians Tyra Stanley who is unbeaten in 20 matches this spring.

“We’re trying to give ourselves as much of a chance as possible,” Porter said. “After experimenting with some things in practice and the (North Central) conference tournament, we feel like this is the best lineup to give us the best chance to be competitive in more matches.”

In the regular season matchup, Marion swept both doubles matches in addition to Dubuque winning at No. 1 singles over Indians top player Haleigh Rowley. Heidi Rowley and Stanley won at No. 2 and 3 singles over Nelson and Hendricks.

The Indians figure to have a slight advantage over the Giants in the three singles matches without Dubuque, although Porter hopes a veteran and tested senior like Wuertley will present a more difficult challenge for Stanley.

“Their move was a pretty good move on their part,” Fleming said. “It matches up some pretty cool combination of players. Moving Elizabeth Wuertley to three singles, (Porter) strengthens his team because of the type of matchup and style of play.”

Madison-Grant (11-9) defeated Blackford handily in the regular season and is expected to advance to the championship match. After returning only one player from last year, coach Tony Pitt is ecstatic the Argylls have put together a winning season.

No. 2 doubles Kayla Comer and Sadie Wilson have won 12 of 13 matches since they first joined forces April 23 and No. 3 singles Lizzy Whybrew has a 13-5 record.

“I’m sure a lot people there will be watching (Marion-Mississinewa) while Blackford and us will do our thing on the west end,” Pitt said.

“We’ll try to battle ourselves, but there should be a lot of attention on the other match. It should be a close one.”