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Tomcats sweep singles, doubles

May 17, 2009 09:25 PM
For Ashland to win a ninth consecutive boys regional tennis championship, coach Eddie Sizemore knew several things needed to go the Tomcats’ way.
Ashland carried out the plan to perfection, capped by a sweep of the singles and doubles titles Saturday at the Ashland Tennis Center. For the second year in a row, the Tomcats’ doubles team of Jeff Nelson and Greg Geremia supplied the clincher by winning a thriller against Russell’s Alex and Austin Christie 7-6, 7-5.
“It’s very emotional,’’ Nelson said after coming off the court. “It’s my senior year. It means so much.’’Ashland junior Stephen Metcalf followed up with his second consecutive regional singles title by defeating Rose Hill Christian seventh-grader David Bush 6-4, 6-1 in a rematch of last year’s final.The victory gave Ashland a 14-12 edge over Russell, which won both regular-season meetings between the teams.Sizemore rated the Tomcats’ latest regional championship as the sweetest of all.

“Even though last year came down to the final match, I think this was the toughest and most satisfying because we knew we beat an awfully good team,’’ said Sizemore, who has guided Ashland to the regional title every year since he took over as coach.

Russell’s girls also won their ninth straight regional crown, scoring 14 points for a two-point margin over first-time runner-up Rose Hill. Russell doubles partners Andrea Wise and Kelsey Hensley nailed down the latest title by defeating top-seeded Alex Billups and Leslie Stringer of Rose Hill 6-0, 6-4 in the finals.

“This group was willing to play in different positions than they were use to doing,’’ said Russell coach Melissa Epling. “I can’t say enough about them.’’
Wise, who has been a part of Russell’s streak since the second grade, repeated as doubles champion with a different partner. Hensley concentrated on singles before joining up with Wise in doubles for the regional tournament.“I found out about two days before the (regional) seeding meeting,’’ Hensley said. “It was a tough decision. I usually like to play singles, but I’m so glad I got to play doubles.’’Eighth-grader Kennedy Womack gave Rose Hill its first regional tennis champion with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Russell senior Claire Spradlin.

“It’s a big thing for me,’’ Womack said. “This is my first year at Rose Hill and I just love it. I’ve learned so much in school and about life in general. I believe it opened my eyes to the bigger picture, and I think that’s what helped me win today.’’

Ashland’s boys started the day tied with Russell. Nelson and Geremia overcame a 5-3 deficit in the first-set tiebreaker by stringing together four points to take the set.
“My mindset was to stay focused,’’ Nelson said. “It’s a battle in your head. You have to stay focused the whole match and that’s what we did.’’
The Christie brothers battled every step of the way.“They played awesome,’’ Geremia said. “I thought it was going to go to three sets.’’Before Geremia served the last point, he walked back toward the fence to collect himself. “I just had to get everything together and put my thoughts straight,’’ said Geremia, who stepped to the baseline and delivered a strong serve that set up an easy volley for Nelson at the net.“I kicked it to the backhand, Jeff hit the putaway and that was the game,’’ Geremia said. “It’s amazing. I love being able to go to Ashland and do my part to keep this streak alive for the school.’’

Russell coach Tracy Edwards complimented Ashland’s strong performance.

“I feel we are the much stronger team, but that being said, I think Ashland’s guys had to do a lot to win and they came through,’’ Edwards said.

Sizemore considered his team the underdog coming into the tournament.

“Number one because of Russell’s depth, and number two because they beat us both times in the regular season,’’ Sizemore said. “But that sort of took a little pressure off us. This was a team effort all the way through.’’

Junior Drew Royalty, a first-year player, won two matches in singles. Senior Patrick Duggan changed from singles to doubles to join freshman Mark Patil and they reached the semifinals, including a down-to-the-wire win over East Carter’s fourth-seeded Korey Brammell and Ryan Kennedy.

“Drew just started playing this year and brought a fresh attitude to the team,’’ Sizemore said. “We felt Patrick had the ability to switch to doubles and it turned out great.’’

Metcalf did his part, bouncing back after trailing Bush 3-1 in the opening set. Two days before, Metcalf erased a 3-0 deficit in the semifinals against Russell’s Taylor Nguyen.

“I knew David was going to come out real strong,’’ Metcalf said. “He’s a fantastic player. I knew I had to use my experience and keep my head together.’’

Metcalf succeeded by mixing up his game and minimizing mistakes. He moved the ball around, hit several effective offensive lobs and threw in some slices to change the pace.

Russell’s girls received a big boost from the Hensley sisters. Along with Kelsey’s doubles title, fifth-grader Kierstin won three matches in singles on the opening day of the tournament.

“I’m very proud of her,’’ Kelsey said. “I don’t know if anybody expected her to get that far. She helped us a lot.’’

In doubles, sophomores Wise and Kelsey Hensley got off to a fast start in the finals.

“I think we are both strong players,’’ Wise said. “I like that we are friends and in the same grade. In the past, I’ve usually played doubles with someone who is a lot older or younger.’’

Rose Hill’s Billups and Stringer made it interesting in the second set before Wise and Hensley closed out the match.

“We had fun,’’ Hensley said. “I hit a deep ball with heavy spin, and Andrea is there to cut it off at the net. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.’’

Womack, making a strong return from a shoulder injury, was impressive in rolling to the singles championship. She didn’t drop a game in the tournament until going up 4-0 in the finals. Spradlin won the next two games to temporarily get back into the match.

“I got a little tight in the first set and Claire started playing better,’’ Womack said. “She is really consistent. When you play Claire, you have to be able to hit the right shots at the right time without making errors.’’

Womack, ranked in the top 70 nationally in the Girls 14s, carried out that plan the rest of the way.