LIGONIER – Jeff Iden has been coaching West Noble girls tennis for 22 seasons. He's taught fourth grade at West Noble elementary for 31 years. Both are coming to an end this summer. Iden is retiring.
But not before he coaches his No. 1 doubles team of Riley Kruger and Tara Miller in the IHSAA girls tennis individual state finals – the program's first state finalists.
“It's nice to have the first state visit on my last year of coaching,” Iden said.
While West Noble (12-4) fell to Westview in the East Noble sectional, Kruger and Miller kept winning, and have earned a spot in the individual doubles quarterfinals in Indianapolis today. If they win, the pair will move on to the semifinals and possibly a state final match on Saturday.
“It really hasn't fully sunk in yet,” Kruger said. “We've had a lot of accomplishments lately; we're both seniors that just graduated, worried about college, so it really hasn't sunk in. It's really hard to describe how it feels to meet a goal that you really never intended to set.”
Kruger and Miller know each other's every move. The seniors have been partners for nearly their entire high school careers and their on-court chemistry has led them to an 18-1 record.
“I love that Tara and I were able to build that relationship over the course of the years and that we have that friendship and understanding of each other,” Kruger said. “Our personalities just really click, especially on the court.”
Personalities where Miller is the dominant, aggressive one and Kruger does all the little things right.
“Tara's the one that kinda controls me,” Kruger said. “She goes for everything; she's extremely aggressive and I'm her backboard, so if she can't get to it then it's my job to make sure I'm keeping my end up too.”
Miller agreed and said their relationship is what's carried them in the postseason. “I am a very bossy person, so yeah I like to take control,” Miller said. “I don't like leaving it up in the air for someone else to decide my fate.”
Kruger started out playing doubles with Miller's twin sister, Tori, who played No. 2 singles for the Chargers this year, but realized her style of play matched better with Tara.
“We just really understood each other,” Kruger said. “I know when she's going to get a ball, and she knows when I'm going to get a ball, and it just grew.”
West Noble tennis has made great strides since Iden took over two decades ago. Nine years ago he started an elementary tennis summer camp to introduce the sport to younger girls. Then the middle school tennis program picked up a few years ago, resulting in the Chargers high school program reaping the rewards.
“We're now getting a feeding system coming up and making our teams a lot better,” Iden said.
In perfect fashion, the Miller twins along with other teammates all were in Iden's inaugural camp class.
“It was really cool to see them come up for little kids,” Iden said.
“We didn't take it very seriously, but we just wanted to go have fun,” Miller said of camp when she was younger.
With a state title on the line, Kruger and Miller have the serious part down, hoping to give their coach something that's 22 years in the making.