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Duo’s wild ride has one more stop

Goodnight, moon; hello, state

DIxon tennis doubles team Jessica VanOosten (left) and Hayley Kent qualified for the state tournament last Friday at the Rock Island Sectional. It will be the first trip to state for both girls.
DIxon tennis doubles team Jessica VanOosten (left) and Hayley Kent qualified for the state tournament last Friday at the Rock Island Sectional. It will be the first trip to state for both girls.

Steve Boll was hoping the stars would align for his doubles duo of Hayley Kent and Jessica VanOosten.

It had been a roller-coaster of a season for the Dixon seniors, who admit they didn't play their best tennis at the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet, although they did medal and earn all-conference honors.

Not only did the stars align at the Rock Island Sectional on Friday night. During a quarterfinal match against Alleman's Meghan Schueneman and Marry Graves, with a trip to state on the line, the full moon shone brightly.

No better time for the moon ball.

"The clouds were kind of in front of the moon. Some of the girls were even taking pictures of it," Boll said. "We didn't see any werewolves, but they were lobbing the old moon ball that night. The wind had died down, so they were able to find that baseline point after point after point."

While VanOosten can sizzle cross-court shots with anyone else in the conference, lobs are her forte. But after playing No. 2 singles last year – Kent played No. 1 – it took a little while for it to make sense to use the lob as a weapon.

Over time, VanOosten's learned to use her body and mind as a guidance system.

"It's funny, because – I talk to Hayley about this all the time – when I hit a super-high one, I lean down and look under the net to make sure it doesn't go out," VanOosten said. "I'm like, 'Sit! Sit! Sit!'"

"I do the same thing when I'm at the net and she hits one," Kent said.

Numerous points against the Alleman duo went at least 20 shots. Along with a heavy dose of cross-court shots was a steady diet of lobs.

"For both of us, it's hard to be patient," VanOosten said. "Sometimes I get too antsy."

So did Kent as VanOosten's lobs eclipsed the moon and pinned the Pioneers along the baseline, only a fence standing between them and the massive cemetery near the Riverside Park courts.

"It's nerve-racking actually," Kent said of awaiting the outcome of a lob. "I just have to position myself so that, if they hit cross court, I can intercept it. Of if they lob back and don't get it far enough, I'm ready to smash it."

VanOosten recalled the anxious moments leading up to punching the ticket to state. The sun had set hours ago. It was cold. While the girls relished the charm of playing under the lights, the last point was elusive.

Up 6-4, 5-0 and sitting pretty at 40-love, VanOosten turned to Kent, whose big serve had confounded the Pioneer duo all night.

"I said, 'We are going. You got this. It's fine. We've got it. We've got it," VanOosten said.

The Pioneers salvaged a point. No big deal, right?

"I said, 'We've still got it,'" VanOosten said, breaking into giggles Monday afternoon in the office at Emma Hubbs Tennis Center.

"Then they got another point, and I was like, 'Why can't we get this point? But we've still got it, though,'" she said, giggling harder yet.

"We finally got it," she said, "and I was like, 'What just happened? We're going to state. That's awesome.'"

It's been a journey to the tandem's 22-9 record. After playing several summer tournaments together, the girls had to convince Boll to let them play doubles, since that left the two singles spots to be filled.

Kent said before the season began that, while her older sister, Amanda, went to state all 4 of her years at Dixon, her mission was to have fun her last go-round.

But the stars have a way of aligning when you relax and enjoy the game.

At about 9 p.m., bound for state and finally in a warm bus, ready to head home, VanOosten got some more good news. Her parents, Andy VanOosten and Cori Sweet, were visiting her grandfather, Jim VanOosten, a diehard Cardinals fan, in Florida.

The distance felt like nothing when she learned the Redbirds had beaten the Dodgers in six games.

"That was his day," VanOosten said of her grandpa. "We were going to state, and the Cardinals were going to the World Series. And my parents will be at state, so everything is great."

Where exactly that will be – and whom the Dixon team will play – is to be determined. The information was not posted on the IHSA website late Monday night.

Strength in Numbers

Singles records in 2012

Hayley Kent (No. 1) – 7-12

Jessica VanOosten (No. 2) – 9-10

Doubles record this season

Kent/VanOosten (No. 1) – 22-9

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