Never underestimate the difference a year can make.
Franklin tennis player Rylie Wilkison, who made an impressive varsity tennis debut as a freshman at No. 1 singles in 2021, elevated her game to a new heights this spring.
The sophomore won 23 consecutive matches this season before experiencing her lone setback, a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Columbus North senior Ashlie Wilson in the quarterfinal round of the state singles tournament.
For her efforts, she is the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year.
Wilkison’s input was a vital ingredient in a memorable Grizzly Cubs effort that included an undefeated regular season, their first sectional and regional championships in 13 years and a postseason that didn’t conclude until a 3-2 loss to Oldenburg Academy at semistate.
Franklin, which was the state’s 11th-ranked squad in the final coaches poll of the season, dominate this year’s All-County squad with all three singles players and both doubles combinations making it.
“I feel like we all improved together in the offseason, and we all came out and strong,” said Wilkison, the leader of a Franklin lineup that featured just one senior this spring. “I think next season we could do the same thing if we all just keep on practicing.”
Longtime Cubs coach Rusty Hughes is confident the 2023 version of Wilkison on tennis courts in and around Johnson County will be even better.
“Rylie’s work ethic off the court is really, really good. It’s off the charts,” Hughes said. “She really improved physically and mentally since last year. And she played more tournaments in the offseason. Rylie had a good tennis plan, and she stuck with it.”
As a ninth-grader, Wilkison posted a 17-7 mark while mostly playing competition two or three years older, such as 2021 county player of the year Ashlee Fisk of Center Grove and Plainfield’s Jordyn Pax, both since graduated.
This time around, Wilkison’s accomplishments earned her first team All-State recognition from the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking when it comes to playing Ashlee and Jordyn. It made me realize that I needed to play more,” Wilkison said. “I feel like I was a lot more confident this season just because I put a lot more time in than I did my freshman year.
“I just feel like I put a lot of effort in, and I played almost every day. I think I played more defensive, and my strokes improved more.”
Wilkison has been comfortable with a tennis racket in her hand for as long as she remembers.
By the time she was in fifth grade, Wilkison was already playing competitively.
“I liked tennis at first. I just didn’t think of it as I wanted to do it as my sport,” Wilkison said. “It was just for fun with my sister and my dad. In the fifth grade, I had my first tournament, and after that I wanted to continue.”