When it happened, Celine Matthews’ mind was in two places at once.
Towards the end of the basketball season during the winter months, she fell hard and sprained her ankle. His first thought was to miss the rest of his basketball games.
Then his process shifted to the tennis season.
“It was tough at first,” Matthews said. “I knew it would just take patience and determination to pull through.”
She puts on a black ankle brace. That hasn’t slowed her down since her return to court over a month ago.
Matthews, Mason City’s top singles player, is preparing for her second straight Class 2A state tournament — this time as an individual — which begins Friday at Waukee Northwest High School.
“I knew it was within my abilities and I had to work hard to make it happen,” Matthews said. “I was very excited.”
His trip last spring was with his doubles partner, Tiegan Barkema, a recent graduate of the River Hawks. They won a match at the back of the bracket after dropping their first-round contest.
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That extra experience is proving more than good for Matthews’ approach and confidence heading into his first-round match against Ankeny’s Kira Smith at 10 a.m.
“I kinda know the ropes,” Matthews said. “I’m super grateful to have had this experience with Tiegan to pave the way for future state races.”
The ankle injury was considered one of the first notable injuries of Matthews’ early prep career. She immediately set to work getting stronger through physiotherapy and other treatments.
It didn’t slow down his work ethic.
On a Sunday, usually her day off, she was out in the field with her brothers hitting balls. She did everything from serves to volleys, and the movement was back and forth and side to side.
“She’s a pretty tough girl,” River Hawks head coach Britney Roe said. “With an athlete like her, she’s mentally strong and has that drive to compete, which has helped her get back on the court a lot quicker.”
Still, Roe had to take a cautious approach with his best player.
Matthews was out for the first week of the season, during which she didn’t miss many games due to cold weather that blanketed northern Iowa in March.
She made her season debut on 11 April against Charles City and won her first game in straight sets.
“It took some mental toughness to trust him again,” Matthews said. “I was very nervous the first game to sprain myself again (since) it’s common to do it (like this).
The second went 8-3 in the regular season and dropped just six sets. She was the undisputed No. 1 singles player this season and proved she could play and compete with the best in the state.
This came as no surprise to Roe. From the Matthews family background and natural talent, she knew what she had in Matthews. She got a glimpse of what she could be in first grade.
He has developed into a player that Roe believes will be a player to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.
“That first year, it’s kind of scary to become the No. 1 or the No. 2 (player),” Roe said. “You see her confidence (grow) on the court. She (hits) harder shots. Her overall game has improved a ton.”
Matthews was the third seed in the Regional 2A tournament at Johnston and qualified for the championship game with back-to-back quarter-final and semi-final wins.
She faced 10th seed Jeena Carle of Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln in the semi-finals. A big upset Carle had was beating second seed Geneva Martens of Waukee in the quarters.
“A little uncomfortable seeing the No. 2 seed getting upset,” she said. “I knew I had to trust my game.”
Last trip to the state, Matthews was one game away from qualifying for day two with Barkema. That remains the goal this season. She faced Smith in the regular season and lost in straight sets.
“Everyone is probably nervous about going to a state tournament,” Roe said. “She will be one of the strongest competitors.”
In a season where Matthews didn’t know how she would react to the injury, she finds herself in the same place as last year in perfect health. This tricks her into thinking she has two more trips in store.
“It’s not just going to take skill, it’s going to take mental toughness,” Matthews said.
Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.