A lost season and new coach didn’t keep Crawfordsville girls’ tennis from setting the bar high for the 2021 season.
Jeff Strickland knew he had Lauren Hale. A senior with talent. A leader he could count on.
“She was going to be really good last season and we knew she would be even better this season, because she just kept working and putting in the time,” Crawfordsville girls’ tennis coach Jeff Strickland said. “When an athlete is hungry and humble, then success is never a surprise. Lauren is just that kind of athlete.”
Hale, who spent time at No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles as a sophomore in 2019, spent the 2020 spring and summer putting in work with local coaches Tim Wright and Susie Hutchison and helping lead a young Athenian team through virtual workouts.
“I would have to say a big thank you to my coaches over the quarantine,” Lauren Hale said. “Tim Wright and Susie Hutchison for being my coaches and coach Strickland’s too, we still had workouts and stuff they were sending virtually, so we were still saying connected and motivated.”
Hale’s work paid off this spring — helping lead Crawfordsville to a county and IHSAA Sectional Championship. The Crawfordsville senior is the Journal Review 2021 Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year.
“At the beginning of the season we had made some pretty big goals, and it was nice that we were able to achieve most of those goals,” Hale said. “We knew we had set big goals, but we knew we had what it took to achieve them as long as we kept pushing each other in practice and improving.”
Hale, who competed in soccer, basketball and tennis for the Athenians, took it upon herself last summer to improve her physical fitness.
“Over the past year I’ve really focused on my overall physical fitness,” she said. “I would go running and staying to try in shape. That’s definitely what I’ve been able to improve the most in my game is to get to more balls.”
She also improved her strategy. No longer just beating opponents with her raw skill and athleticism, but staying competitive as one of the areas’ top No. 1 singles players.
“Lauren is a really smart player,” Strickland said. “It didn’t take long for her this season to recognize her strengths and utilize them to get the most out of her game. She made adjustments when she needed to do so, but mostly she just never gave up and never stopped competing. Having not had the opportunities to compete the year before, I think most of her improvement came from simply getting more and more experience as the season went on.”
Hale will forever be grateful for the opportunity to compete during her senior season and taking the court every night with one of her best friends made it that much more special.
“After losing last year it was definitely very rewarding coming back and being able to play the full season this year,” she said. “It was very rewarding after losing last year, and all the hardships we’ve had. And especially to be able to do it with our team and Hannah (McLean), one of my close friends, was very rewarding.”
Hale and McClean were the lone seniors for an Athenian team that will go down in the record books after reclaiming both the county and sectional crowns.
They powered the program.
“Their success was our success,” Strickland said. “I don’t believe we won a match when neither of them were victorious. When they won, we won. But more than anything, they came out ready to play every single match and that pushed our team to come out and compete in every match. They set the tone for us this season from the start to the finish.”