NW tennis Layden

TIGER: Northwestern No. 1 singles player Madison Layden is shown in a match against Cass last week. Layden compiled a 15-1 record during the regular season.

Northwestern’s girls tennis team just keeps on winning.

The Tigers went 10-0 in compiling their fourth straight unbeaten regular season. They’ll shoot for their fourth straight Kokomo Sectional title this week.

Coach Kathie Layden pointed to consistency at the top of the lineup as a key to the continued run of success. Junior Madison Layden is in her third season at No. 1 singles and senior Allison Miller is in her fourth season at No. 2 singles.

“Having those girls return allowed us to keep our doubles strong and play to Kendall’s strength as a doubles player,” Kathie Layden said, referring to junior Kendall Bostic. “Seeing [junior Klair Merrell] move up to 3 singles and have the success that she has had there also makes us tough to beat.”

The Tigers are strong at all five points. Madison Layden has a 15-1 season record, Miller is 14-2, Merrell is 14-1, Bostic and senior Jennie Jones are 15-1 at No. 1 doubles and seniors Olivia Hodson and Katie Neher are 13-3 at No. 2 doubles.

“I would say this is definitely a team that when we go into the match we feel we have a good chance to win at all five spots,” Kathie Layden said. “We knew this would be a team that would make huge strides as the season progressed because of their athletic ability and being multi-sport athletes.”

Northwestern is the heavy favorite in the sectional, which opens today with the Tigers vs. winless Taylor in one match and Hoosier Heartland Conference champion Eastern (18-1) vs. Tipton (7-7) in the other. The semifinal round is Thursday with Kokomo (2-13) vs. the NW-Taylor winner and Western (6-8) vs. the Eastern-Tipton winner.

“We are excited to start this part of the season,” Kathie Layden said. “The sectional is always a goal of the team and we are looking forward to playing [today].”

Northwestern and Eastern appear on a collision course for the championship match. The Comets have just three losses over the last two seasons — all coming to the Tigers.

“We’re happy with our draw,” Eastern coach Pat Rice said. “Obviously, all of our attention is going to Tipton. We know that there’s a big team roaming out there, but Tipton is going to be the first thing we’re going to focus on. We got a 4-1 win over them pretty early in the season, but we have a different lineup now than what we had then so I’m interested to see how we’ll do against them with this lineup.”

Like Northwestern, Eastern is strong at the top of its lineup. Senior Casey Clark is 18-1 at No. 1 singles and junior Callie Sargent is 19-0 at No. 2 singles. The Comets also are solid at No. 1 doubles where senior Morgan White and junior Kaylee Weeks are 16-3.

Northwestern beat Eastern 4-1 during the regular season. The Comets went 3-0 against other sectional teams, beating Tipton and Western by 4-1 scores and beating Taylor 5-0.

“It’s been a fantastic season,” Rice said. “We have some amazing senior leaders on this team and they’ve made it a joy every night out to be their coach. It’s just been a fun season.”

PANTHERS, KATS DRAW BYES

Western will await the Eastern-Tipton winner.

“I was pretty happy with [the draw],” Western coach Judson Quinn said. “I think everyone in the sectional wanted to stay away from Northwestern so we were happy to be on the opposite side of the bracket. We beat Tipton 3-2 [Monday] and if we faced them again, it would be another close match. We lost to Eastern 1-4, but there were some close matches. I think we’re a different team now.”

The Panthers’ strongest points are Nos. 1 and 2 singles. Junior Abigail Moreno is 11-5 at No. 1 and freshman Eliza Lutgen is 9-7 at No. 2 and 10-7 overall.

“Every single week, we’re getting better,” Quinn said. “I think our doubles teams are starting to play better together, building chemistry as they’ve played more matches together. I think the more tiebreakers and third sets we play, we’re playing better in those close-match situations.”

Kokomo drew the other bye and will face the Northwestern-Taylor winner. The Wildkats did not face either during the regular season.

The Kats took their lumps for most of the season, but they recently beat Anderson and Logansport in the North Central Conference tourney for their first wins of the season.

“We have improved so much throughout the season,” Kokomo coach Sarah Hemmerich said. “We have been competitive at the singles positions, but our doubles have struggled. We are definitely playing our best tennis right now.”

Kokomo’s strongest point is No. 1 singles where junior Abigail Bowen has a 9-6 record.

Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune's sports editor. He may be reached at bryan.gaskins@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8567.

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Bryan Gaskins is the Kokomo Tribune's sports editor. He joined the sports department in a full-time capacity in September 1999 and moved into the editor's role in January 2010.