QUINCY -- The Quincy Notre Dame girls tennis team has shot out of the gates with three straight dual victories this season, the latest coming in a 9-0 sweep of Alton Marquette in its home opener at Reservoir Park on Wednesday.
The Raiders have won 25 of their 27 matches over their first three duals, and they've shown well in tournaments with a second place finish in the Alton Tournament and a fourth place finish in the Central Illinois Invitational last weekend.
"They are just a good group of girls," QND coach Theresa Quintero said. "Their camaraderie among each other is very strong, and when they come out they have some simple goals in mind. Simple things that help them get through the match, and as they are needing additional tools they just sort of pull those out as needed."
Quintero returns to lead the Raiders for a second stint, as she was the head coach from 2011-2013 before stepping away for the last six years. She was involved with the team last season so she has familiarity with the girls, but the way they've been playing to start the year she has been able to sit back and watch the action.
"I haven't had to do too much, honestly," Quintero said. "The coaching takes place at practice and when it comes to the matches I just support them. It's for them to figure out when they are out there, and I think they are proud of themselves when they come off, win or lose, because they know they had to use their heads and figure it out."
Three of the four girls who made an appearance at the Class A State Tournament a year ago for the Raiders are back with the squad, with seniors Clair Moore and Abigail Ley, who were both singles qualifiers, and junior Jamie Steinkamp, a doubles qualifier, all returning.
Despite that returning talent there's actually a new girl at the top of the lineup with freshman Lia Quintero, Theresa's daughter, occupying the No. 1 singles spot. Lia possesses a potent combination of power and variety of shots that have led her to a 3-0 start in duals, including a 6-0, 6-1 win over Marquette senior Leah Hoefert on Wednesday.
"She is driven, she likes the competitive edge, she likes to be challenged," Theresa said of Lia. "She likes that challenge because I think that brings out the best in her. She fought for the position of No. 1 singles through challenge matches at the beginning of the season and earned that. We actually are currently in the next round of challenge matches this week and she has held onto that position."
Steinkamp has vaulted into the No. 2 singles spot that's because of the growth she's shown since her sophomore campaign.
"Within this last year's time I've seen a noticeable consistency that's joined Jamie's game," coach Quintero said of Steinkamp, who also improved to 3-0 in dual singles on Wednesday. "She's always had a beautiful forehand and a solid backhand. She maneuvers well around the court, but what I've noticed is a consistency to complete her game and get into a longer point and be comfortable with it.
"Those are all little changes that are huge when you get to a certain level of play."
Moore and Ley both are great singles players in their own rights, but their true power lies in their combination as a doubles team. The senior duo improved to 3-0 in duals Wednesday with an 8-2 victory, and their connection goes beyond how well they play together.
"It starts outside of the tennis court," Quintero said. "They are also very good friends, and they click and communicate in that sense. Then, when they get onto the court, it's just a continuation. They know each other's game well, they know each other's little signs and signals, and honestly their unspoken bond is the best. It could be a look, a nod, a body gesture, that's all communication and they know that about each other."
At the back of the lineup are two relative newcomers in sophomore Olivia Ley and freshman Evie Schuetz, but both have the talent to contribute. Both girls are currently 3-0 in the Nos. 5 and 6 singles spots, respectively, and they are 2-1 combined as a doubles team.
"We have depth and we have a jumping board to move forward on," Quintero said. "I am so happy with these girls, it's a great dynamic."
With that kind of talent up and down the lineup, and the fact that QND will host a sectional meet at Reservoir Park this year, Quintero isn't shying away from setting her sights high on the team's end goals.
"I would love to see all of them get into state," she said. "That could be a very possible thing, to see all of the varsity in state."