LIGONIER — For Tara Miller and Riley Kruger, it’s been four years in the making.
For the first time in West Noble High School history, a girls tennis team will be competing at the IHSAA state tournament. Miller and Kruger are one of seven doubles teams competing for the individual doubles state championship this weekend at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.
“It really hasn’t fully sunk in yet. We’ve had a lot of accomplishments lately. We’re both seniors, so we just graduated and we’re worried about college,” Kruger said. “It’s really hard to describe how it feels to meet a goal that you really never intended to set.”
Miller and Kruger have been a doubles pair since their freshman year. Kruger was originally paired with Tara’s twin sister, Tori, but quickly moved into a partnership with Tara. Their relationship, both on and off the court, blossomed from there.
“(Tori and I) just didn’t have the chemistry, and playing with Tara, we just really understood each other,” Kruger said. “I know when she’s going to get a ball, she knows when I’m going to get a ball. It just grew and we understand each other on the court really well.”
“I think the fact that we’re able to trust each other and build off of each other. It’s just made our friendship and relationship on the court better,” Miller added.
Kruger and Miller enter the state quarterfinals with an 18-1 record, the most wins of any team left. They’re also the only all-senior duo left. Combine that with being partners for four years, and they feel good about not being afraid of the moment.
“I think we bring a lot more experience because not only have we been playing for four years, but for four years together,” Kruger said. “So, I think having that chemistry on the court is going to help us overtake some people that maybe are still learning that.”
They know how each other plays on the court, as they explained.
“Tara’s the one who kind of controls me. She’s the one that keeps me calm. If I’m doing something bad, I ask her, ‘What do I need to do?’ She keeps me in line and she goes for everything,” Kruger said.
“I am a very bossy person, yes. I like to take control. It’s just my personality,” Miller added. “I just like to take control. I don’t like leaving it up in the air for someone else to decide my fate.”
The Chargers’ team season came to an end in the sectional semifinals to Westview, but since Kruger and Miller won their individual match against the Warriors, they were allowed to continue in the individual doubles tournament. They defeated teams from Central Noble, Goshen and Angola in the sectionals, advancing to the regionals last week in Portage.
In the regional semifinal, they defeated a duo from Andrean, 6-2, 6-1, to advance to the regional final. With a spot in the state quarterfinals on the line, the duo knocked off Michigan City, 6-4, 6-1.
The West Noble seniors now get to face Evansville Memorial’s Abby Myers and Margo Throop, both of whom are sophomores. The match begins Friday at 2 p.m. Kruger and Miller have been practicing about an hour a day this week to prepare.
“We just want to work on all our shots. Just prepare as much as possible for it,” Miller said. “It’s very hard (to prepare). We don’t know what to expect. All we can do is look at their record.”
While it’s been four years in the making for Kruger and Miller, it’s been 22 for coach Jeff Iden. This is Iden’s final season leading the Charger program, and his No. 1 doubles team has rewarded him with his first trip to state.
“I’ve been working to get some success in this tennis program. Nine years ago, I started a summer camp for second-, third- and fourth-graders. … Now we have a feeder system coming in, and that’s helpful,” Iden said. “What’s neat is Tara Miller and her sister, Tori, and (fellow West Noble tennis player) Meghan Godfrey were all in my very first tennis camp. So, it was really cool to see them come all the way up and get into this position. It’s a dream come true.”
Miller remembers attending that camp when she was young.
“We didn’t take it very seriously, but we wanted to just go and have fun,” Miller said. “Then, starting in high school, I really wanted to start taking it seriously. So, I started working as hard as I could.”
Kruger and Miller have a chance to make history this weekend in Indianapolis. A win would be the first girls state championship in West Noble school history, regardless of sport. All they have to do is win three matches against some of the state’s best competition.
“It’d be incredible. That hasn’t crossed my mind yet because we like to take it one match at a time,” Kruger said. “Just to make sure we don’t get too nervous or too excited.”
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN