It will be the typical tough competition for the Bishop Luers girls' tennis team when sectionals begin this Thursday, but with a different locale and a pair of storied programs.
After securing the program's first SAC championship since 1994 with a perfect 7-0 league record, the Knights now look to make some noise in the postseason. A sectional site move from Concordia to Homestead will now pit Coach Brady McArdle's team against perennial powers Canterbury and the Spartans.
“This whole experience is going to be different,” said McArdle about this year's sectionals. “There are only four teams as opposed to five (at Concordia) and Homestead and Canterbury have sensational programs so we have our work cut out for us.”
The Knights (14-2) got a favorable draw as they will face Wayne Thursday, while No. 15 Canterbury takes on Homestead in the other semifinal.
The winners will face off Friday for the sectional title, with Bishop Luers looking for its first crown since 2008 and only its second since 1993.
“When you look at the other three teams ... the team we wanted to play in the first round was Wayne,” McArdle said. “(The Generals) have a really good coach and a good group of kids, but they are honestly not on the same level as Canterbury or Homestead.”
Bishop Luers beat the Spartans earlier this season 3-2 and McArdle feels confident if his team meets Homestead on Friday. But Canterbury is a different story, with the Cavaliers shutting out the Knights on Tuesday 5-0 in the regular season finale.
McArdle admitted to mixing up his lineup to some extent - which included matching up sisters Samantha and Natalie Rahrig at No. 1 doubles - in order to not show his “full deck” to Canterbury, but if the two squads meet later this week, it will take a near-perfect effort to knock them off.
“Canterbury is just so tough at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles and they have plenty of other talent as well,” McArdle said. “You just have to somehow steal a point here and there to really have a chance.”
McArdle has confidence in his roster to pull the upset if given the chance, with Samantha Rahrig at No. 1 singles a steady force all year. Christina Regan is undefeated at No. 2 singles and the duo of Abby Overley and Maddie Brown has been solid at No. 1 doubles to give the Knights depth.
Bishop Luers has already clinched one team goal this season in winning the SAC, now its time to make a run at the other.
“A couple of the girls pointed out that they were not even born the last time we won the conference,” McArdle said. “Other than 2008, it has been a similar drought for sectionals. We would like to change that.”
A little confidence can go a long way in unfamiliar territory.