By Steve Williams
Knoxville Catholic High girls’ tennis is on a three-year roll since the pandemic sidelined high school spring sports in 2020.
Not only have the Lady Irish won back-to-back state titles, they were announced as the No. 1 team in the nation this past December in the Universal Tennis Rankings and remain undefeated this season.
Catholic hopes to continue the good times this week at Spring Fling 30 in Murfreesboro.
Rusty Morris, who has been coaching at Catholic since 2007, thinks “the key to success” for the girls’ tennis program is “the leadership on the team. When you have your best player as your hardest worker and the one that’s always early and staying late …”
Morris was referring to senior Maeve Thornton, the team’s No. 1 player and a Furman signee.
“She’s also very supportive of her teammates,” said Morris. “And Gigi (Sompayrac) is also a senior leader who does the same things. I think that’s the key to it. Everyone wants to follow suit.”
Other top players on the team are junior Eleni Liakonis and sophomore Lillie Murphy.
Thornton and Sompayrac team up in doubles play as well as Liakonis and Murphy.
As a team, the Catholic girls are in their third straight season being unbeaten. They defeated Girls Preparatory School 4-0 in the Division II-AA state quarterfinal round Monday (May 15).
When Thornton was asked what she thought was the key to the Catholic girls’ success, she said: “I think it’s really just the relationships we’ve formed with each other. This team is truly like a family. We’ve all laughed together and cried together and we’ve all been through so much together. It’s made us stronger. It’s like when we are out there competing; we’re really competing as a team together. I think that’s the key.”
Team competition this week is scheduled for Tuesday (semifinals) and Wednesday (finals). State singles and doubles play will be Thursday and Friday.
Having won back to back state titles, Maeve said she thinks “it would be really special if we cap it off with a 3-peat. That’s our goal. That’s what we’ve been striving for. And yes, I think especially for me and Gigi as seniors, it would be great to end our high school careers with a state championship.”
It’s not all competition on the court during the Spring Fling week for the Catholic girls.
“Our team likes to eat, so we go to fun restaurants,” said Maeve. “We always find ice cream places and dessert places to eat. We play and practice during the days. At night, we all just get together in our hotel room. One year we went shopping at Barnes & Noble, so just little things like that.”
Other members on the Lady Irish team are juniors Payton Carroll and Marianna Hurley, sophomores Karenna Thurman and Pauline Schneiter, and freshmen Logan Connatser and Lauren Murphy.