LINCOLN — A year ago, most of Omaha Duchesne’s tennis team was wondering if they were ever going to break through.
The Cardinals finished as the state runner-up for the second straight season. After finishing a half-point behind McCook in 2017, Duchesne fell 2.5 points short of Omaha Brownell-Talbot/Concordia last year.
With a reconfigured lineup and a return of No. 1 singles player, Kate Krueger, the Cardinals left no doubt about the best team in Class B tennis Friday at Woods Tennis Center. Duchesne finished with 54 points to claim that elusive team title, while Grand Island Central Catholic finished second with 42.25 points.
“They knew how close they’ve been the last couple of years,” Duchesne coach Nate Evans said. “I’m not going to say that finally we got a state title. I’m very pleased with these past few years. Duchesne hasn’t been this dominant in tennis in a long, long time.”
Duschene’s last team title came in 1985, which capped off sixth straight team titles. Evans, who is in his second year as head coach and third with Duchesne, said he’s proud of the journey they took to their first team title in more than 30 years.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “This kicks off a new era for Duchesne in athletics. In the next few years, Duchesne is going to be a real force to be reckoned with in all sports.”
Krueger, who won the No. 1 singles title in 2017, sat out last season to focus on college recruiting while playing national tournaments. The Creighton recruit capped off her prep career with an undefeated season and a 6-1, 6-1 win against 2018 No. 1 singles champion Brianna Liu of Brownell-Talbot.
Even though the score was one-sided, the competition on the court was much closer. Long rallies and many deuce games forced Krueger to work hard for her third win over Liu this season.
“I knew she could play really tough on those big points. She’s been here before and she’s done it,” said Krueger, who finished the year 29-0. “I knew she would get a lot of energy and motivation if she broke me. So I knew I had to be tough on my service games.”
Last year, Meena Satpathy finished third in 1 singles while Lesley Lam placed fifth at 2 singles. Evans said he put them together as a doubles team during the first practice and never looked back. They amassed a 29-0 record, capped off with a 6-4, 6-3 win over GICC in the title match.
The duo said it helped to have each other on their court to keep positive and focused. Lam said they went through a mental transition to get used to playing with someone else, but that support helped.
“It was something we were lacking at the beginning (this season) and we were just getting down on ourselves because we are both singles players,” she said. “Throughout the season we realized that we needed to pump each other up and keep the energy level up.”
In No. 2 singles, Aruna Bashir didn’t think she would play again this season after rolling her ankle during a doubles match in March. The Brownell-Talbot/Concordia junior was in a walking boot for a month and returned to play on April 23.
She entered state with a 4-2 record and as the No. 8 seed. But in the final, she made quick work of second-seeded Mallorie Buescher of Lexington, winning 6-2, 6-0.
“I was grateful to be able to play with my ankle because after I sprained my ankle I thought I wasn’t going to be back all season,” Bashir said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy in my life.”
At No. 2 doubles, Jenna Lowry and Megan Woods of GICC finished as runner-up last year as the No. 1 seed. This year as the No. 3 seed, they avenged a loss against Kearney Catholic in the semifinals before knocking off Duchesne 6-4, 6-2 to win the championship.
“We played every sport together throughout high school,” Woods said, “so we just wanted to end it with a bang. And this is the perfect ending.”