The Republic tennis team hosts Branson tonight in a key Central Ozark Conference match with hope of an undefeated league record still alive. That hope is only possible because an unexpected cast of characters stepped up big in two matches last week, after several varsity starters were quarantined.
The Lady Tigers didn’t miss a beat to open the week, with a 9-0 win over Neosho. But Thursday’s match against a tougher Carl Junction squad came down to the wire, with senior Caydie Imbeau clinching the victory on the final match of the night.
Imbeau said she was aware that her teammates were paying extra-close attention to her match, but didn’t know the final decision had come down to the outcome.
“I saw a lot of the team come over and started watching me and cheering me on,” she said.
Among Republic’s starters, only Izzy Wells had any versity experience at all. Others included Ashlyn Leonard, Taylor Massey, Mari Davidson, and Grace Replogle
Early in the week, Imbeau said she and the other junior varsity players were nervous to hear they’d be moved up to varsity.
“Varsity is a really big step up for us. We had to put our game faces on and try our best,” she said.
After the shutout win at Neosho, the Lady Tigers knew they’d face a more difficult challenge against Carl Junction. But after winning the first game of her singles match, Imbeau said she realized she could prevail.
“The (first game) kept going deuce, back to ad out, then deuce and ad in. Once I won that point, I knew I could actually win the whole thing.”
And when Imbeau won the final point to clinch the win against the Lady Bulldogs, the sideline spectators erupted.
“When I won the point, everyone started cheering, and I looked over at Coach Vales, and he was screaming and jumping up and down and yelling. Everyone was really excited,” she said.
Vales said he had tried not to show much emotion throughout the week to help keep his inexperienced players on an even keel, but it wasn’t easy.
“It was really exciting, and we didn’t want the girls to play nervous, so we tried to hold those emotions in check,” he said. “Your stomach’s churning, but it was great to see those girls who’ve never played varsity step up and win some matches and give us a chance to win conference undefeated.”
Republic hosts Branson tonight beginning at 4:30.