FORT WAYNE – Despite its success from a year ago, the Bishop Luers girls tennis team still had its doubters.
The Knights were 2012 SAC champions with a perfect 7-0 league record, had a 16-4 overall record and were sectional runners-up. But entering this season, they were without the team’s No. 1 singles player – Samantha Rahrig – two other key players and the architect of the program – eight-year coach Brady McArdle.
The team, though, has removed any reservations by elevating players, as well as coaches, to new responsibilities, and it has resulted in another SAC championship – again with an undefeated conference record.
We are still sneaking up on everybody, said Knights coach Jerry Rahrig, who was elevated from assistant.
They are still thinking we are not the top dog, but two years in a row, so maybe they will start to look at us that way. We don’t mind being the underdogs. We kind of took it all to heart. I wouldn’t say we were disrespected, but nobody was giving us any (media attention) thinking we were going to be the outstanding team.
The doubters from outside the program fueled the team’s preseason practices.
No one expected us to win the SAC (in 2012), so this year no one really knew what was going to happen because we lost a lot of seniors, Luers junior Maddie Brown said. It did give us motivation that we could do it because we did it last year. It gave us confidence and motivation coming in. That gave us motivation to get better, especially during practices and during conditioning in the morning, it gave us a reason to be there.
As the season wore on, Luers began to believe in its potential.
I knew we could do it, but I wasn’t positive, Natalie Rahrig said. As I saw everyone get better, I knew later on that we could do it. Our team is so different this year, I don’t think we needed to defend our title.
Jerry Rahrig said he saw the possibilities from the get-go for Luers, which returned seniors Andrea Choka and Courtney Witte.
Honestly, I thought we would be pretty strong this year, Rahrig said. We were the undefeated SAC champs last year, and we had quite a few back.
Luers solidified the top of its lineup by moving junior Natalie Rahrig, Samantha’s younger sister and Jerry’s daughter, from No. 2 singles to No. 1 and Brown from doubles to play at No. 2 singles.
Maddie Brown stepping up and helping us at singles has been a huge help, Jerry Rahrig said.
Jerry Rahrig said the credit for the foundation of the program goes to McArdle, who still makes the occasional appearance to help out the players, but Jerry Rahrig has tried to put his stamp on the team.
Brady has done such a fantastic job, Jerry Rahrig said. He still helps out, and that has been huge too.
Jerry Rahrig said he learned a lot from McArdle about administration and psychology, but Luers’ coach also has his own strengths in the areas of strokes and strategy.
I preached on the girls about fundamental, high-percentage tennis and nothing fancy, Rahrig said. We are just going to go out there, grind it out and do our best.