BLOOMINGTON — Hannah Meece got into coaching as a way to thank her coaches.
Now her Central Catholic High School tennis team is whipping opponents with no apologies during a stellar second season under her tutelage.
After going 11-1 a year ago, Central was 9-1 prior to Wednesday's Senior Night match with visiting Pontiac.
The Saints won tournaments at Springfield and Dunlap, but lost to Teutopolis in the Effingham St. Anthony Tournament and beat everyone but Downers Grove South and Naperville Central in Saturday's Champaign Centennial Doubles Tournament.
Back when she was known as Hannah Esker, Meece was coached by Chris Hoover at Illinois State and Yale Reynolds at Effingham St. Anthony High School.
"They're kind of the reason I wanted to be a coach because of the great coaches I've had," said the 28-year-old Meece, whose staff includes former Redbird assistant Kurt Scheuer along with Laura Ballard.
Meece's coaching philosophy focuses on the mental aspect of tennis. In a too-brief three-month season, she knows it's difficult to change players' strokes.
"I can practice the strokes with them, but it's hard to refine or teach a new stroke in that amount of time," said Meece, who wants her players mentally ready to come from behind if needed. "A lot of tennis is so mental. You're out on the court by yourself."
The Saints have come together behind the leadership of four seniors.
"They are really invested, which makes the whole team invested," said Meece, whose squad has knocked off Intercity rivals Bloomington, Normal Community and Normal West and will visit University High on Oct. 3.
Back from last year's top six are senior co-captains Renata Lee and Charlie Sartoris and juniors Camryn Restivo and Carley Hundman.
"We're doing really well," Sartoris said. "Our team is really coming together as the season keeps going on. Practices are going well, too. We push each other. We're all around the same level."
Sartoris had concerns coming into the season.
"I thought it was going to be a little tough because of the seniors we lost last year, but we have a lot of underclassmen who have really stepped up and filled the positions, which I'm really grateful for," she said. "As we started playing, I realized we could possibly be better than we were last year."
You have free articles remaining.
Lee is 11-6 at No. 1 singles while Restivo is 11-7 at No. 2. Sartoris, a two-time state doubles qualifier, is 8-0 at No. 3 and Hundman is 6-1 at No. 5. Facing the top player from every opponent hasn't fazed Lee.
"I have been pleasantly surprised by the way she has stepped up her game to play against those top players," Meece said. "She comes to the net and puts balls away."
Meanwhile, Restivo shines at the baseline.
"She's like a human backboard," Meece said. "It's hard to outhit her in a baseline rally."
Sartoris specializes in doubles and has gone 20-3 with Hundman at No. 1. A deadly first serve sets Sartoris apart.
"Her put-away volleys are tough," added Meece, who likes the way Hundman complements Sartoris.
"Her baseline shots, especially her backhand return of serve is probably one of her strongest shots. With that strong return, Charlie is able to put away the volley."
Meece won't be surprised if Sartoris and Hundman, who have won two tournaments, draw a high seeding for the Oct. 13 Bloomington Class A Sectional.
Junior Kristin Vose is 14-1 at No. 4 singles. The No. 6 singles spot is filled by either seniors Isabelle Goodlick or Emily Bready or junior Lily Kanski.
"(Vose) is maybe the most improved player from last year to this year," Meece said.
The No. 2 doubles team is Vose with either Goodlick or Restivo. In meets requiring a No. 3 doubles team, the Saints often go with Goodlick and Kanski, who are like utility infielders.
"I know I can just count on them wherever I put them," said Meece, whose only dual meet loss was at Washington, 5-4.
"I think it's been a great season so far. I knew they had a lot of potential the first day of practice, but they've been exceeding my expectations and they just keep getting better."