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Girls tennis wraps up one of the best seasons in a decade

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By Laura Clark

The girls’ tennis postseason run came to an end Tuesday, but it was collectively the best season in several years for the Rockets. Coach Marc Johnson said it was only the second or third time in a decade that Shelby had qualified a singles player and doubles team for the quarterfinals of the 8th Region Tournament.

“When you come out in the spring, all you want to do is put yourself in a position to succeed,” Johnson said. “We did that. I’m proud for them.”

Johnson noted the jump several players made this season. No. 1 singles player Ellie Watts, a junior, played No. 1 doubles last year. She transitioned to the top in singles, which was no simple feat. Also, Keira Lopez, who played No. 1 doubles with Emma Turner, was an exhibition player last year.

After losing 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to South Oldham’s Alex Tolsdorf and Anna Townsend (the No. 2 seed in the tournament), Lopez said she wanted to win for Turner, a senior, more than for herself.

“We really wanted it,” Lopez said. “I think we really feel like we have it sometimes, and then one thing happens and we kind of get down. You can’t do that.”

Shelby was down 4-1 in the first set when a rain delay postponed the quarterfinal match for an hour. In the second set, Shelby quickly went up 5-2. South Oldham got the next game, but Shelby adjusted to the Dragon’s aggressive net play and began putting some tenacity behind shots of their own to win 6-3.

The third set was all about who could maintain momentum, which was up for grabs through the first several games. And being tied, emotions radiated from the court.

“It’s definitely intense, but it’s more mental,” Turner said.

Shelby went up 3-1 to start. Then the trouble started and as Johnson noted later, nerves set in. South Oldham won one. Then Shelby slipped by with a win to make it 4-2. But the Dragons weren’t finished.

Shelby started double faulting on one too many serves and South Oldham won four in a row to win the game 6-4 and eliminate the Rockets.

“Too many good plays to count, more than a few errors,” Lopez said. “But it’s the momentum -- it just moved all over.”

In the quarterfinal singles match earlier, Watts lost 6-2, 6-1 to North Oldham’s Lauren Renaud, the 4th seed in the tournament. The score, however, doesn’t reflect how many times Watts took games to deuce. Renaud just made a few less errors and was able to wear Watts down by alternating her shot placement.

“I think the main problem during the game was that I wasn’t making good clean ground strokes,” Watts said. “I was strategizing more. She’s a really good player.”

The Rockets’ best finish in years has been a couple seasons in the making, Johnson said. Another player, Paige Kregor, didn’t qualify for the regional tournament as the No. 3 player on the team, but had no less of an impressive year, going undefeated at 21-0 during the season.

“It’s a lot of work we do way before this time,” Johnson said. “Probably the biggest thing it shows is how different it’s going to be next year. It took a whole county for us to be this good this year. United we stand; divided we’re going to have to get used to.”