MISHAWAKA – The Saint Joseph girls tennis team faced its first true test of the young season Thursday night, and aced it with flying colors.
No. 3 Saint Joseph downed No. 8 and Northern Indiana Conference rival Penn 4-1 in warm and windy conditions at Penn.
The Indians, who were state runner-up in 2021, improve to 3-0. Penn drops to 5-2.
Saint Joseph, which beat Penn 5-0 in the regional final a season ago, was led by its 1-2 singles punch.
Sophomore Molly Bellia and classmate Ashi Amalnathan each won 6-0, 6-0 at the top two spots.
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Bellia was 25-0 a season ago and won the No. 1 singles state championship. The southpaw was all business in downing Penn senior Jamie Hurst, who will play at Ohio Northern next year.
“I had no expectations for my score tonight,” said Bellia. “I just want to come out every match with the same attitude and try to cover every situation in it better.
“Over the past year, I’ve really worked on my mental game. To dwell on any mistakes in a match does not do any good at all. I feel like the three areas of my game that have improved the most from last year are my serve, my mental game and the pace on my shots. “
With no seniors among their top seven players, Saint Joseph graduated three players from last year’s team that lost just twice. Both of those losses were to state champion Carmel.
“There is a lot of potential in this team,” Bellia said. “Our doubles are getting better and I feel like everyone is improving.”
Ashi Amalnathan, who played No. 3 singles a year ago, beat promising Penn freshman Aileen Hu 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 singles.
“I feel pretty confident in my game, more than I did last year as a freshman,” Amalnathan said. “I see a lot of potential in our team. I have faith in all of my teammates. I feel like all of us have a chance to win every match we play.”
Amalnathan also likes having younger sister Anni on the team. Freshman Anni teamed with sophomore Dani Graham to win at No. 1 doubles Thursday night.
“She’s my best friend and it’s nice to have her on the team with me this year,” said Ashi. “We have so much fun together.”
In doubles, juniors Gracie Velasco and Maddie Nguyen beat sophomores Clarissa Schmitt and Maren Woelfer, 6-2, 6-0, at No. 2. Anni Amalnathan and Graham ended the match by outlasting senior Mandy Baker and junior Neely Langfeldt at No. 1 St. Joe won the first set 6-3 before Penn took the second 7-6 (7-3). Amalnathan and Graham then won a third set 10-point tiebreaker 10-1.
Junior Sophia Pischalko was the standout for the host Kingsmen. She was on her game di lei in a 6-0, 6-0 win over junior Lily Mayfield at No. 3 singles play.
“This was a real good test for us,” said Saint Joseph coach Bill Mountford. “The weather has been so bad that we have not been able to even practice much outside, so this was good.
“The conditions were difficult with the wind today, but that’s Northern Indiana in April. It was good for us to see what we are up against versus Penn. We will see them again in the NIC tournament next week and could again down the road in the regional. I’m sure both teams will make adjustments.
“I think we have good chemistry with our doubles teams and that’s very important. The players complement each other well. I was really pleased with our No. 1 doubles in the tiebreaker. They cut down on their errors and got their serves in and that was a big key. “
Penn coach Eric Bowers thought his team, which returns six players from last year’s end of the year lineup, put up a solid effort.
“I was proud with how all of my girls competed tonight,” said Bowers, whose team finished 12-7 in 2021. “There were a lot of good points in all five matches. But at the end of the day it was 4- 1. We have a lot of work to do to try and flip that score around.
“Saint Joseph is just really good. We knew that. Molly is one of the best players this area has seen in a long time. She just comes to play every match for them.
“Sophia is a great player for us. She just goes out and plays her best wherever I put her in our singles lineup (2 or 3). I thought that our No. 1 doubles fought hard in their match.”
Saint Joseph will face some strong competition Saturday. The Indians play in an invitational at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis which will have seven ranked teams among the eight in the field. The event is a blind draw tournament format.
SAINT JOSEPH 4, PENN 1
SINGLES: 1. Molly Bellia defeated Jamie Hurst 6-0, 6-0. 2. Ashi Amalnathan (SJ) defeated Aileen Hu 6-0, 6-0. 3. Sophia Pischalko (P) defeated Lily Mayfield 6-0, 6-0.
DOUBLES: 1. Dani Graham-Anni Amalnathan (SJ) defeated Mandy Baker-Neely Langfeldt 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 10-1. 2. Gracie Velasco-Maddie Nguyen (SJ) defeated Clarissa Schmitt-Maren Woelfer 6-2, 6-0.
Team records: Saint Joseph 3-0 (3-0 NIC), Penn 5-2 (1-1 NIC).