'We'll be excited.' Saint Joseph girls tennis gets past LaPorte, rival awaits at semistate

LA PORTE — Shortly after she wrapped up her No. 1 singles match Wednesday at the La Porte girls tennis regional, Molly Bellia’s teammates took a bucket of tennis balls and formed a “100” on the edge of the court.

Mylar balloons followed, and then flowers, as Bellia celebrated the 100th victory of her high school career.

“I really enjoy every moment that I get with my teammates,” said Bellia, who overwhelmed La Porte’s Brooklyn James, 6-0, 6-0, to reach the milestone.  “I know this experience is coming to an end, and so I try to cherish every minute.”

Too bad there weren’t a lot of minutes to cherish during Wednesday’s championship match, as No. 1-ranked Saint Joseph needed just 52 minutes to eliminate LaPorte, 5-0, and claim its fourth consecutive regional title.

Now it’s on to Saturday’s semistate at Culver Academies, where Saint Joseph will face long-time nemesis, defending state champ and No. 7-ranked Carmel at noon.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Saint Joseph coach Bill Mountford said. “We set some very lofty goals at the beginning of the season, and we know we have to take care of business to be where we want to be at the end of the season.

“This is a very good group of girls and I don’t think motivation will be a problem.”

They were certainly all business against La Porte, as Saint Joseph (18-1) won four spots by scores of 6-0, 6-0. One other — the No. 2 doubles team — won 6-1, 6-1.

Saint Joseph senior Molly Bellia prepares to hit a shot during a girls tennis regional championship match against LaPorte Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in LaPorte.
Saint Joseph senior Molly Bellia prepares to hit a shot during a girls tennis regional championship match against LaPorte Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in LaPorte.

It started with Bellia, who will be playing at the US Naval Academy next year. She rarely yielded a point, efficiently working the baseline while moving James back-and-forth across the court.

Bellia was the IHSAA individual state champion as a freshman and state runner-up a year ago.  Does she want another shot at the individual gold medal?

Sure, she said. But first things first.

Saint Joseph has been state runnerup twice in the last three years.

“The team is definitely more important to me,” said Bellia. “I did the individual (championship) my freshman year. I know that feeling. I love being with the girls on this team and that is my first priority, so they can feel it, too.”

La Porte posted a 17-4 record this season, but Slicer coach Don Varda knew it would take a miraculous effort to upend Saint Joseph.

“I told our girls to go out and play as hard as you can, but the play is so good at Saint Joe,” Varda said. “I told our girls to keep their heads up.”

The end came quickly. At No. 2 singles, Ashi Amalnathan took out LaPorte’s Jaidyn Maule, 6-0, 6-0.

At No. 3, Anni Amalnathan of Saint Joseph beat Mia Mejan, 6-0, 6-0.

The Saint Joseph No. 1 doubles team of Dani Graham and Libby Yergler topped Dana McQuarters and Michaela Miller, 6-0, 6-0.

Graham, by the way, is one of the few Saint Joseph players who doesn’t practice the sport year-round.  She is a volleyball player in the fall.

At No. 2 doubles, LaPorte’s Logan Higley and Allison Schnick put up a fight, but fell to Ella Michaels and Anna Walsh, 6-1, 6-1.

“We’re always excited,” said Graham, a senior who will study economics at Notre Dame next fall. She played doubles in almost every match of her high school career.  “If you don’t get excited, it comes back to bite you.  We’ll be excited (against Carmel).”

Singles competition

In an individual sectional match played concurrently at LaPorte, Sophia Heaton of Kouts defeated Washington’s Leanna Hudson, 6-1, 7-5.

Penn wins regional title at NorthWood

During Wednesday’s regional at NorthWood, Penn defeated host NorthWood, 3-2.  The Kingsmen travel Saturday to the semistate at Homestead, near Fort Wayne, to face Carroll (Fort Wayne).

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Bellia's 100th win come with regional title for Saint Joseph tennis