One year removed from earning Class 1 All-State medals as Saxony Lutheran girls tennis’ top doubles team, juniors Maggie Hillin and Abby Haley are having an even more impressive campaign heading into the final half of this season.
Through their first 18 doubles matches, the duo has only lost twice for an overall record of 16-2 compared to sitting at 10-6 at this point of the year last fall. Hillin and Haley have only lost to the doubles teams of back-to-back reigning Class 1 State Champions Kennett and Class 3 Francis Howell.
While these Crusaders took seventh place at last year’s Class 1 State Doubles Tournament to earn all-state, they are hoping to place even higher this time around with one more season under their belts.
“We’ve definitely worked to improve our consistency because that was a big thing last year,” Hillin said. “I think if we continue to do that, we can beat any team we face. State was a great experience and a little nerve-racking at first.
“We’re really glad to get it out of the way last year so the nerves won’t be there this year, and we’ll be more focused on our game.”
This fall, Hillin and Haley have recorded five shutouts while forcing teams to score less than three points in a match 15 times.
Hillin and Haley are currently undefeated versus Class 3 Jackson by posting scores of 8-2, 6-1, 6-0, 8-1 and 8-0. These Crusaders only fell to Kennett by one point at 7-6 and Eureka by three with a 8-5 final. Abby said the two have a special way of celebrating when they score.
“When we get a point, we have a look like, ‘That was good,’” Haley explained. “Like we know that was good. We set each other up. One thing we do well is we’ll hit a deep ball from the back so our opponent will hit it short to the person at the net.”
Hillin and Haley first became doubles partners their freshman year as they described themselves as having a similar skill set. Maggie started playing tennis in sixth grade in summer camps and full-time when she reached Saxony, while Abby never played tennis until high school as she used to play volleyball instead.
“We have good chemistry, and our personalities definitely bounce off each other,” Hillin said.
Haley added, “It’s nice that we’re also friends off the court at school because it helps with our chemistry on the court.”
Witnessing their growth and helping them in the process has been Saxony head coach Amy Birk. Birk is in her fourth season at the helm for the Crusaders and is the one who made Hillin and Haley play doubles together in the first place.
“Coming into a young program together, they just meshed right off the bat,” Coach Birk said. “They’ve become friends through the program and just have fun playing together, and they have the same mindset when they’re on the court.
“They are good at setting up plays to where the other team hits the net player. They’re both very good at executing at the net and putting the ball off to the side so that no one is there to get it.”
Last season, Coach Birk made both Hillin and Haley her team captains as sophomores because of how well they lead the team. “When things need to be taken care of or something needs to be said to the team in general, they’re the ones to do it.”
Outside of tennis, Hillin and Haley helped the Saxony girls soccer team reach the Class 1 Final Four for the first time since 2016 last spring. This also just happened to be both of their first times playing high school soccer.
The Crusaders ended up placing third overall at state as Haley and Hillin both scored a goal in Saxony’s 2-1 win over Bishop LeBlond in the third-place match.
“After I scored, I couldn’t believe it,” Haley said. “After Maggie scored, I ran and hugged her. It was a different feeling — it was amazing.”
Hillin added, “I had played soccer before, but I didn’t do it freshman year. I’m so glad I did it last year because it was such a great experience, and we love the team.”
Along with being a state medalist in both tennis and soccer, Haley qualified for the Class 2 State Tournament in track and field. Abby, who also plays basketball in the winter, reached state in the 100-meter hurdles.
“Going to state is such a special experience that a lot of people don’t get to have,” Haley said. “We’re so blessed that we’ve gotten to go in multiple sports, so it’s a really cool experience that I hope everyone can have.”
Overall, the Crusaders have a team record of 11-3 and have only lost to undefeated Kennett and North County, while falling to Jackson by three after beating the Indians in the first two meetings. Making up the team with Hillin and Haley are Crusaders like seniors Evie Caruso, Addie Thomason and Sydney Ernst and freshman Katya Rust, who is a part of a big freshman class.
Goal wise, Hillin and Haley hope to win a state championship for the Crusaders as well as beat Kennett, which hasn’t lost a match since 2020. Even though Saxony tennis is a younger program, they both feel it’s one that’s on the rise.
“There’s a lot of success in the future to come,” Haley said. “We’re just the start of a great program.”