Caroline Miller didn’t come into her sophomore tennis season at Lincoln Southeast with expectations of playing doubles.
That quickly changed as Knights coach Chris Salem saw the spark Miller brought to the doubles court. Salem needed to find a second player for his No. 1 doubles team, to go along with senior Katie Whitehead, and Miller’s serving and serve-receiving abilities were exactly what he needed.
He called it a "fairly easy decision" to pair up the senior and sophomore.
“I really didn’t have expectations to play doubles at the start of the year,” Miller said, "but when Coach Salem told me, I knew it was coming. I’m just so thankful to have Katie as my partner.”
The No. 1 doubles duo stormed past every opponent they faced this year to a 31-0 record and a No. 1 seed heading into the Class A state tournament Thursday at the Koch Family Center in Omaha.
“We just worry about getting better,” Salem said. “We don’t get specific about records, that’s not something we ever talk about. I don’t even know if they know their record. I don’t think they do.”
It’s clear to Salem and his No. 1 doubles team what the goal is at state: get better with every point.
“The good thing about state is it’s three sets,” Whitehead said. “If you have a tough first set, it’s easy to be positive and talk about bouncing back and getting it done in three. We just always try to stay positive with each other.”
Whitehead has been in this situation before.
She took third place last year alongside then-senior Abby Peterson.
Whitehead also has played doubles all four years at Southeast, so Salem said he leans on her for leadership, guidance and overall knowledge of the game.
“It’s like she’s a co-coach,” Salem said. “She is that smart out there on the court.”
Whitehead’s expertise at doubles helped Miller’s transition early in the year, but she was quick to point out how much skill Miller brought to the table. That skill was on display as she finished in second place at No. 2 singles last year at state, as a freshman.
“We played a couple challenge matches against teammates in practice early in the year and she (Miller) was just so positive,” Whitehead said. “Some of the shots she was making, I remember thinking, 'This is going to be a fun year.' That’s when I knew we could go really far.”
One thing that can be lost, however, is the level of trust and positivity between Miller and Whitehead that doesn’t show up on the scorecard. Miller pointed to that as the best thing she has experienced from her senior partner.
“I felt like I had a negative mindset when I played singles,” Miller said. “When I play with Katie, it’s a lot easier to be motivated to be positive because she is such a positive player. She is just so smart and intuitive. It’s a lot easier to have a positive mindset throughout the match.”
Miller and Whitehead will begin their quest with an opening round bye, then will face the winner of North Platte’s Codi Guerrieri and Samantha Uppal and Columbus’ Aspen Luebbe and Emily Miksch.