Jessica Gomez could feel the win.
Just five points away from the victory in the third-place match last spring, Gomez planted oddly on her left knee, tearing her ACL and meniscus.
“I almost couldn’t believe it when I hurt the knee,” Gomez said at a recent practice. “It didn’t even hurt right away, but the knee couldn’t withstand all the weight. I was just disappointed.”
Late in the state tournament, the Rebels already had locked up the state championship, but with Gomez’s injury and losses in the second and sixth-place doubles matches, the win almost felt like a loss.
For T.F. South, goal No. 1 is simple and straightforward. Win state again and enjoy it.
“We’re definitely not content,” T.F. South coach Bob Tengstrand said. “We’re focused on state. Invites, conference, sectionals, those will happen along the way. With injuries, the losses, we looked at the state title as ‘We won but …’ This year, no matter what happens, we’ll be happy and celebrate.”
T.F. South defeated Naperville Central for the title, piling up 16.5 points to 12 points.
Even losing three state qualifying players from last season, hopes are high for T.F. South, starting with Gomez back to lead the team.
The senior estimates her knee is at 90 percent, and she experiences no pain when she plays. After surgery last summer, she went six months without hitting anything more than serves before finally getting back on the court.
“I can’t believe I’m a senior, and it’s bittersweet because this is my last chance,” Gomez said. “My first priority is defending our state championship title as a team. I also obviously want to win state as an individual.”
Gunning for the state title, senior Cassie Breshock and junior Jenna Pasko will team up as South’s No. 1 doubles team. Pasko and since-graduated Shannon Pollard lost in the championship match last season in three sets while Breshock and then-senior Jhennie Corpuz lost in the sixth-place match.
“We’re nervous and excited defending our title,” Breshock said. “Everyone expects us to win again, but we know it’s not just handed to us. We’re getting ready.”
Finding that rhythm the doubles duo will need is high on the list as the season develops.
“Just make good shots, never give up,” Pasko said. “We definitely want to get first this year. It’s that level up. The people we lost to graduated so that’s an upside. It’s there to win.”
Bri Walker looks to take the No. 2 singles spot behind Gomez while Cameron Crosby, Paula Rodriguez, Jeanne Colin, Brittany Arreola, Kristi Fisher and Precious Powe will round out the doubles rotation in looking for a second state-qualifying doubles team.