Balanced Pats have their eyes on the prize

Herald File Photo
Senior No. 1 singles player Kate Kaetzel has been a dominant force at her position throughout her four years of high school tennis for Heritage Hills. Along with senior Kyla Dilger and junior Carly Sabelhaus, the Patriots have built up a veteran core at the three singles positions and have their eyes on a potential sectional rematch with No. 16 Castle.


Wednesday, April 25 — it’s a day that the Heritage Hills girls tennis team remembers well. That day was the only time this season the Patriots failed to win a single individual match in a 5-0 loss to powerhouse Castle, who finished the regular season ranked No. 16 in the state.

With the IHSAA sectional draw set for tonight at 7 p.m. and the Knights at Pats playing in the same group, Heritage Hills will see if a potential rematch with Castle is on the horizon. For senior No. 1 singles player Kate Kaetzel, there’s nothing more that she wants than a second chance to pull of an upset.

“I think we’re playing at one of our highest points that we have all season and I think it’ll end up coming down between us and Castle in the sectional so we’ll have to fight,” Kate Kaetzel said. “Honestly, one of the most fun times I had this year was playing Chrissy Fuller (Castle’s No. 1 singles player) — she’s a fun opponent to play and I like the challenge.”

Heritage Hills has accomplished a lot in new head coach Ray Kaetzel’s first season. The Patriots finished the year with a 12-3 record (7-1 in the Pocket Athletic Conference) and also won both the Mount Vernon Invitational and their own Heritage Hills Invitational.

While Kaetzel had been around the program for the past few seasons as an assistant coach (and is also the father of No. 1 singles player Kate), it can be an interesting transition moving from an assistant role to a head role. However, Ray says the best part about this season has been watching how much the girls have grown since they first stepped on the court for the year at the beginning of March.

“It’s always the most fun when you see improvements by the girls and you seem them learning things and light bulbs start to go off in their heads,” Ray Kaetzel said. “The fun part for me has always been the teaching part and also that this group gets along really well — they’ve meshed and they seem to have fun together and like being around one another.”

The Patriots have a strong veteran core in their three singles players with Kaetzel and No. 2 singles player Kyla Dilger being seniors and No. 3 singles player Carly Sabelhaus also has a plethora of varsity experience as a junior.   

The three singles players were major keys in many of the Patriot victories this year — Kaetzel and Sabelhaus lost just once while Dilger came up short in just two matches.

“With our doubles still being relatively young, our singles have kind of been our strength,” Ray Kaetzel said. “They’ve only lost four times between the three of them so I think the singles have come along really well.”

The doubles rotations have fluctuated throughout the season with senior Sydney Rube and sophomore Mallory Tempel being the primary two players that have stuck with one another and have now found themselves in the No. 1 doubles role.

Sophomore Kya Weatherholt and freshman Abby Ruxer have spent a lot time at the No. 2 doubles position with fellow freshman Avery Neff also seeing a large amount of varsity action this season. Tempel, who spent some time on the varsity squad as a freshman last year, says she feels much more comfortable being paired with a senior this season at the No. 1 doubles spot.

“(Sydney) will point out everything that I do wrong and she’ll help me try to fix it,” Tempel said. “I think my groundstrokes have gotten a lot more reliable to where I can place them better to avoid the opponent and my mental state has gotten a lot better, I don’t get down myself as much as I did last year.”

Even with all the success the Patriots have had this season, there’s still things that they’re hoping to improve on before their sectional begins on Wednesday.

“For me personally, I still need a little more confidence when it comes to my serves,” Kate Kaetzel said. “There seems to be spurts where I don’t necessarily believe in myself which has led to some double faults but I’ve been able to get over it. I think we’ve also been able to become more aggressive especially at the singles positions which is a good trait to have.”

With many of the Patriot tennis players also members of other athletic programs during the fall and winter, the first week of practice in March is often times the first time they’ve picked up a racket since last season. Ray Kaetzel is hoping that the girls continue to work over the summer to build up on their strengths they’ve shown this year.

“With every girl that doesn’t play in the summer or winter, if they see how much they can grow in five or six weeks just think how much you can grow if you come all summer and play,” Ray Kaetzel said. “They’ve started to see how much better they’ve become just since the beginning of the March but if you work on that the whole year, the growth could be even larger if they take a little more time.”

Whether it’s Castle or someone else who Heritage Hills will face on Wednesday, there’s no doubt that the Patriots will be ready for any challenges that lie ahead on their search for their first sectional championship since 1996.

As long as the Pats continue to play as a team and show the determination that they’ve shown throughout the season, Kate Kaetzel thinks they’ll be just fine.

“Our biggest strength as a team is that we’re very close with one another and we push each other a lot harder which will just help the program continue to grow,” Kate Kaetzel said. “We’ve always kept fighting even when we had to be on more of the defensive side but we’ve always still kept after it point after point and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

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