HERRIN — Senior Hannah Lueke and the Carmi-White County Lady Bulldogs made the proper adjustments they needed to take home first place in a 10-6-2 win against host Herrin and Mount Carmel at the Herrin Sports Complex on Saturday.
“Coach has basically told us to keep it simple and not overwork anything,” Lueke said just before her team was presented the first-place trophy.
Lueke teamed up with junior Liberty Smith at No. 1 doubles for Carmi to beat Herrin 10-8 in the opening set. The duo then took a 10-15 minute break before defeating Mount Carmel 10-3 in the second set that all but guaranteed their victory before Herrin and the Lady Aces faced off in the third set.
“I think Liberty and I played really well today considering it was our first time playing together besides at practice yesterday,” said Lueke. “It’s usually me and Jasmine (Smith) working on doubles, but she’s better at single competitions.”
Smith fell to Herrin’s Jaylan Blake 10-5 in her first set but managed to finish her day off strong with a 10-3 victory over Mount Carmel sophomore Camryn Strine. Junior Kaeli Burchfield won both her singles matches 10-6, 10-2, on a day where head coach Chris Courty told his kids it was “payback time” after losing to Herrin 5-4 on Aug. 29.
“I don’t know what it is but I’ve been coaching different sports here at Carmi for 31 years, and for whatever reason we’re always getting off to a slow start,” said Courty. “We came out a little sluggish against Herrin and that worried me a little bit. I mean it’s their courts and everything, but my girls turned it around midway through the match and I told them that if they come out and take care of business against Mount Carmel, then we’ll walk out champions, and that’s what they did.”
Carmi defeated Herrin 4-2 and Mount Carmel 6-2 in moderately cool weather before the breeze slowed down and the sun came out. Courty has a special motto for his group of athletes that he described as “self-motivated” when it comes to playing during a pandemic.
“A lot of these kids play other sports and they’re always used to raising themselves up in competition,” said Courty. “Our thing is that it is what it is and we just live day by day. Especially with the seniors, it’s been hectic, but I just want them to get as much playing time as they can because they deserve it.”
Next up for Carmi is a head-to-head matchup against Marion at home next Thursday.
As for Herrin and head coach Matt Snell, the team welcomed back senior Kelby Weber after missing the last couple of weeks. Weber and fellow senior Bre Nesler were able to cap off their afternoon at No. 1 doubles with a 10-0 shutout against Mount Carmel, which leaves Snell hopeful that his team can shake off the rust from their opening set against Carmi.
“We knew coming in that (Weber) would be a little rusty after missing some time but it’s nice to have our No. 2 player back,” said Snell. “It’s funny because they got off to a fast start in their No. 1 doubles match and then all of a sudden Carmi made an adjustment and we didn’t react to it very well.”
Snell said nerves played a part in his team's performance on the day, labeling it “not easy” winning at a home event. When asked if Carmi got the upper-hand on his team, Snell simply stated that the Lady Bulldogs "outplayed them."
Herrin’s Jaylan Blake finished 2-0 in singles competition against the aforementioned Smith and Strine. During her first set against Carmi, Snell gave Blake advice on setting her feet and straightening her shoulders — something he knew she'd learn herself.
“Sometimes Jaylan can be her own worst enemy, but she’s really improved and is a really good player,” said Snell. “I’m happy to look at the little things for her and help her out, and then she makes the adjustments on her own.”
The Herrin Invite normally showcases up to eight teams but given the current status surrounding COVID-19, Snell hopes the competition can return to form at this time next year.
“This is a great event when all eight teams are here,” said Snell. “It’s a long and tiring day, but it also separates the teams over the long term.”
The Tigers will enjoy a couple days off before traveling to Mount Vernon on Tuesday as the first of three-straight matches, followed by traveling to Benton on Wednesday, and then hosting Centralia on Thursday.
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