INDIANAPOLIS – The most successful girls tennis season in West Noble history came to an end Friday.
The Chargers' doubles duo of Tara Miller and Riley Kruger ran into a powerful buzzsaw in Margo Throop and Abby Myers of Evansville Memorial, falling in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 in the state quarterfinals at Park Tudor.
Miller and Kruger, who both saw their careers conclude at the end of the match, were the first players in program history to reach the state finals. Despite the loss, they still feel the season was a success.
“It was incredible,” Kruger said of playing in the state finals. “The nerves were high, and we were super excited, but in the end I'm very proud of how we did. That team was very good and to begin with we didn't expect to be here, so I'm not completely disappointed.”
The teams held serve through the first three games, giving Memorial a 2-1 lead in the first set. In the fourth game, the Tigers (13-1) broke Miller's serve and then won the fifth game to go in front 4-1.
The Warriors (18-2) battled in the sixth game, with Kruger serving. There was a terrific rally with West Noble trailing 30-40 and the Warriors almost won it when Miller, reacting at the net, tried an overhand smash. Instead, the ball slammed into the net, and West Noble dropped the game and the set.
The defining feature of the first set, and the match as a whole, was Memorial's power. There was little finesse to Throop and Myers' performance; they continually hammered forehand winners with maximum strength.
“Normally (Miller and Kruger)'s game is lobbing and coming to the net, making it difficult on the opposing players,” West Noble coach Jeff Iden said. “I tried to get them to go that direction because I felt like they were playing the game of their opponent, which was blast, blast, blast.
“That was not Tara and Riley's game, so I tried to get them to change it up a little bit.”
The second set was played more West Noble's style, especially late. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but West Noble broke its opponent's serve for the first time in the fourth game to stay in the hunt.
The fifth game of the second set was a key moment in the match. Miller served an ace on double break point to keep West Noble alive and the game seesawed at deuce for four points. Memorial finally took the advantage on a smash at the net that nearly hit Kruger in the face and then won the game on the next point.
Two games later, the match was over, as was a partnership that had lasted for nearly all of Miller's and Kruger's high school careers.
“I love playing with Tara,” Kruger said. “We just have a chemistry on the court, a bond, where we can talk to each other very honestly. If I'm doing something bad, she can look at me and say, 'Riley, stop playing bad, this is what you need to do' and I can do the same for her.
“Having that relationship just makes it so you can always be at your best.”
The state match was also the last in Iden's coaching career, which spanned 22 years. He said his immediate plans involve fishing on Webster Lake.
“A dream come true,” Iden said of coaching at state for the first time. “I would never have thought this would have happened a year ago. To see it come together for (Miller and Kruger) on their senior year. ... it's beyond words.”