By R. Alan Richardson
If you missed this one, it was one of those “Shoulda been there” moments for Morgan’s ladies’ tennis team. After winning the Region Championship and taking a first-round state tournament victory over Murray County, the squad faced a talented Appling County team in the Sweet Sixteen round. It was an agonizing and painful way to end their season. However, it was some of the most competitive and well-played tennis you will ever see at the high school level. Morgan lost the team match 3-2 with three of the five individual matches going three sets or ending in tiebreaker fashion. This one had the fans on the edge of their lawn chairs throughout the afternoon.
Morgan’s number one single, Chloe Cooper, fell behind in the first set 0-3 before mounting a gritty comeback to break serve and take the lead at 5-4. She finished the set out on the next point for a one set lead. The second set was an up and down affair that included three ties and two lead changes during play. Cooper went up 5-4 and then 6-5 before Appling tied things up at 6-6. The set went to a seven point tiebreaker in which the senior destroyed her opponent 7-1 for the first win of the day.
The number one doubles team of Caroline Rittenhouse and Madison Gasque had their hands full as well. The match went three sets with the girls taking set one, but lost the second to send things into a huge third set for Morgan County. This was their time to shine as they made quick work of Appling’s doubles team 6-1. This put the Lady Dogs in the driver’s seat 2-0 needing one more win to move on to the Elite Eight.
According to Coach Dearing, “The number two doubles team of Jessie Pagett and Sarah Moore played some of their best tennis of the season losing in two sets 1-6, 4-6. They should be proud of all the improvement they’ve shown this season.” You could tell that they always had fun out there playing together and enjoyed this season. It would now come down to the number two and three singles matches.
Avery Kirby, at number two singles, battled through three sets as well. She took the first set 6-4 after falling behind 0-3 early in the match against a very similar player to her. Lots of ground strokes were the name of this one. Both players pounded the ball at each other to see which one would make a mistake. Kirby lost her first match of the season when Appling won the second set 1-6 and the third set 3-6. Believe me when I tell you, Avery has had a tough week, but she showed some of the highest sportsmanship and class you’ll ever see. Why do we say this? Well, her opponent, let’s just say, did not see the lines very well and called several balls out that were questionable to say the least. She could have lost it, but she didn’t. She played through it without complaint showing what she’s made of. Her parents should be proud of this young lady.
Carley Henry also had a three-set match. After losing the first set 2-6, she waged war on her opponent at the net using her height advantage. The crowd was behind both Avery and Henry in the final two matches that ended within seconds of each other. It was agonizingly taxing to watch Carley as she took control of the second set winning it 6-3 and headed into the third and final set. Appling got out to an early 0-3 lead that Henry couldn’t quite overcome eventually losing 3-6. It’s going to be hard watching Henry, Cooper, and Pagett graduate.
It’s never easy when your season comes to an end, but the Morgan County High School ladies’ tennis team has a lot to be proud of. Coach Stacey Dearing summarized the feelings afterwards and on the season with these words. “It was a very close and tough loss. I’m very proud of them for how hard they worked and the effort they gave. It was hot out there! The sweet thing was that they were looking at each other and cheering each other on between points.
Both the boys and girls teams are incredible sportsmen that show the grace to rise above the challenge. They always take the high road sometimes when they don’t have to. Our girls play the game with such integrity and don’t won’t to win by cheating. They are competitive and play to win, but their sportsmanship is exquisite.
After the loss I thought it was so sweet that Doug Connelly called me for a pep talk. He asked how I was doing and said we had a great season with some changes we made like integrating the Middle School practices with the High School. He then said that we did a great job in my first year with a great season and a bright future. I told him the loss was bittersweet and I hated it ending. It was hard and I thought the girls deserved a happier ending than they got.”