But the preseason word the coach delivered to Donoho athletic director Shannon Felder prior to the start of the Lady Falcons tennis was spot-on when she told him she figured they could place fifth in the state if everything fell into place.
They did just that when they finished fifth behind champion Montgomery Academy, Trinity, Mars Hill and Randolph at the Class 1A-3A state tournament in Decatur on Thursday.
“I felt like we’d be at the state tournament for sure,” she said. “We didn’t lose anything (from the 2010 team). We had all six (players) back. With a good draw, I felt like a top five finish was possible. And after the first day of the tournament, that’s exactly where we were.”
It was the third-straight appearance in the state tournament for Donoho in as many years under Senkbeil. The promise of future trips and better finishes appears to be on the horizon for a team who’ll lose just one senior and already have a more than capable replacement on campus.
Donoho, which won the Red Wilder Invitational at Anniston Country Club which includes all tennis-playing school in Calhoun County earlier in the month, scored one state champion, finals tandem in doubles and a pair of state semifinalists.
Eighth-grader Nina Bidikov captured her second-straight title, handing Montgomery Academy what Senkbeil said was likely it’s only loss on the court. The Lady Eagles forfeited another match when a player found out a family member had been killed in the midst of the tornados that swept through the state Wednesday.
Bidikov has held down the No. 4 singles spot for the past two seasons but Senkbeil said with the success she’s had she could move up for her freshman season. It’ll only add strength to a team that will include former Faith Christian No. 1 Ciara Burgess, who sat out this past season after transferring but should be on the team next spring.
“I just don’t see her playing No. 4 again next year,” Senkbeil said.
The Lady Falcons No.2 doubles team nearly captured a state title. Bidikov and Alex Woodfin led 8-7 in their finals match against Montgomery Academy. However, they wound up falling 10-8 in a thrilling match.
“They were devastated,” Senkbeil said. “But they should’ve been proud.”
Elizabeth Smith and Sally Barber both won quarterfinals matches after byes in the first-round.
The scheduled two-day tournament wound up taking three to complete. Matches were called off Wednesday, due to the pending pounding the state would take due to inclement weather. Senkbeil said they spent most of Wednesday when matches were cancelled at the safe place at the Holiday Inn where they had rooms. With no electricity and no fast-food options available the team went to sleep around 8 p.m. and was well-rested for the Thursday’s matches.
“The kids took it pretty well,” she said of the less than ideal conditions. “They were pretty even keel.”
Their finish was the best in Senkbeil’s tenure and she already has her prognosis in for next season.
“They should be as good if not better than they were this year next year,” she said.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.