By Kyle Daubs

Lily Gregory understood the assignment. 

Before the season began, the ultimate goal was getting to the state tournament.

With her third-place finish at the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional, the Mattoon High School junior became the first Wave tennis player to qualify for state since 2019. 

Gregory defeated Charleston’s Maggie Goetten, 6-1, 6-1, in the first round and then battled past Jada Buehnerkemper of Teutopolis, 6-4, 7-5.

“I was trying to tell myself to stay calm and focus on identifying my opponent’s weaknesses to help myself win,” said Gregory. 

To set up a spot in the Sectional Championship, Gregory dropped a 6-3, 6-2 match to Robinson’s Annie List. With third place on the line, Gregory rallied after losing the first set 6-2 to win the next two sets by 6-4 and 7-5 over Decatur St. Teresa’s Colleen Larry. 

“It feels really rewarding after all the work I’ve put in this summer and fall for the sport,” said Gregory. “It was also one of my goals at the beginning of the season. My teammates were all super supportive and pumped for me.”

MHS coach Joey Boyer talked highly about his No. 1 singles player. Gregory, who was an All-Apollo winner at the Apollo Conference Championships, had to dig down and clinch a late win in the third set to seal her trip to state. 

“Lily has all the shots and can set up her points as good as any player we have had at Mattoon in a long time,” said Boyer. “I look forward to seeing her compete in the semifinals Saturday.”

Gregory is set to compete Thursday at Buffalo Grove High School and surrounding area courts. The bracket has not yet been released, but Gregory said she isn’t worried about her opponent. She just wants to go out, compete, and try to win a match. 

“I’d like to at least win a couple, but, overall, just do my best and enjoy the opportunity,” said Gregory. 

Mattoon placed sixth as a team at the IHSA Sectional, while Charleston placed 10th.