MACON -- Sherwood Christian Academy tennis coach Curtis Driver sounded a whole lot better Sunday evening than he did last week.
"I'll admit it -- I lost my voice I was so excited," Driver said of the school's first GISA Region 3-AA title in at least 10 years that the No. 1 doubles duo of Jessi Blackwell and Casie Wright won at last week's tournament. "They were down, 4-1, in each set and came back to win, 6-4, 6-4. It was really amazing to watch."
Driver, however, won't get to watch the next chapter today as a pre-planned family reunion in Amelia Island, Fla., took him away this weekend. Wright and Blackwell open play in the GISA Individual State Tournament at the John Drew Tennis Complex in Macon.
But that's OK, say the girls -- who didn't play a lick of doubles together all year, only to be thrust into the pairing the day before the region tournament -- because their confidence coming in is at an all-time high.
"We expected good results then and we expect them (today)," said Wright, the team's No. 1 singles player this season, while Blackwell is No. 2. "We're both really strong players, and we feel really good about our chances."
The first and second rounds will be played today, then players will return in a week for the semis and finals.
Driver made the coaching move to put Wright and Blackwell together at the seeding meeting the night before the region tourney last week. He said he did it because he felt it gave the girls the best chance to reach state.
And he was right.
"I wasn't sure how deep they would go individually and since you can only play one -- singles or doubles, not both -- we felt they had the best shot by playing together," said Driver, who has been the boys and girls tennis coach for the last three years. "And with each match (during the region tournament), they really improved."
Improved may be an understatement of sorts considering SCA was seeded third, but managed to upset the No. 1 duo from Valwood for the title by having to rally from three games down in each set.
What's even more impressive? The newly paired duo also didn't drop a set the entire tournament.
Even though Wright may not have been surprised, Blackwell was.
"We really didn't know how it would work at first, but we saw early that we played well together," said Blackwell, who -- like Wright -- is a junior. "I actually was kind of surprised."
Wright was already in Macon on Sunday when reached by The Herald. That's because her brother, Reid Wright, also qualified for the GISA State Tournament at No. 2 singles, but in Class AAA because he attends Deerfield. The Knights, along with Southland, will be Southwest Georgia's only other representative's at the tournament today.
Since their win, Wright and Blackwell have practiced together all week with Wright's brother and her father to gear up for state.
Blackwell said the duo also received tips from local tennis pro Joann Matthews at Pine Forest Racquet Club and feel confident they'll be able to make a "deep run."
"I really feel like we can. We're focused and we're ready to play our best," Blackwell said. "Ms. Joann helped us all week with (positioning) on the court and with our angles."
Driver, for one, wishes he could be there, adding that his family reunion was the first in 40 years -- and was an event he simply could not miss.
But while his body will be in Florida today, he admits his mind will be in Macon.
"Even though they're coming in as the No. 1 seed, (they're unknown) since they didn't play together this year until now," Driver said. "I'll be getting text updates through the day. Trust me, I wish I could be there. It's a big day (for them and Sherwood tennis)."
DWS & SOUTHLAND TENNIS PLAYERS BOTH OPEN STATE TODAY:
Not to be overlooked are several players from both Deerfield and Southland who will also make the trip to Macon in hopes of winning a state title.
The Southland girls pulled off the upset in last week's Region 3-AAA Tournament, winning the team title behind the No. 1 doubles duo of Sara Cathryn Parker and Caylee Hammack, who will be the Lady Raiders' only representative in Macon today. For the Southland boys --- who finished runner-up as a team to DWS for the region title, but still managed to advance a handful of individual players --- making the trip will be the No. 1 boys doubles team of Ryan Singley and Sachin Kothari, No. 1 singles player Andrew Carroll and the No. 2 doubles duo of Kyle Crew and Bennett Souter.
As for DWS, the boys team -- which captured the Region 3-AAA title last week --No. 1 singles player Tyler Mason and No. 2 singles player Reid Wright will both make the trip, as will both the Knights' doubles teams: Kevin Cheshire/Robert Newsome (No. 1) and Matthew Jones/Nasser Rizvi (No. 2).
The DWS girls, whose streak of six consecutive region titles was snapped this year by Southland, are a little out of their element this year with fewer players than normal, but still have two pairs of doubles teams in the hunt for state championships: No. 1 sister duo of Sarah Kitchen and Hope Kitchen, and the No. 2 team of Mary Virginia Hogan and Sara Barge.
The state team tournament, which is separate from today's individual event in Macon, will be held April 28 in Augusta.