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Westwood's Smith set to defend state tennis title

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- Westwood tennis phenom Sydnee Smith doesn't like to look ahead.

The present? That she can do.

"Right now, I'm just trying to fine-tune everything," said Smith, the defending GISA Class A girls state champ at No. 1 singles. "I'm not thinking about (four in a row) -- just No. 2."

Smith and 11 other Westwood players open the first round of the GISA State Tournament today in Macon. There, Smith will look for a repeat and to build momentum as both the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats' region championship teams head into the state team tournament later this month.

Smith hasn't lost a match all year. Heck, she's barely even been tested.

"She probably lost five games the entire region tournament," said Westwood boys and girls tennis coach Carole Powell, who has been with the program eight years, but has never had both her boys and girls team win region in the same season before now. "She's just that good of a player."

Smith burst onto the scene last year, coming out of nowhere to waltz to the Class A state championship by beating the No. 1 seed in the tournament, 6-1, 6-2.

"I haven't lost all season, yes, but I've had some good matches," Smith said with modesty. "I feel good about (today) because I've had some really good practices the last week and I made sure there were no glitches in my game."

Smith, whose mother, Jenni Smith, is a former star high school athlete herself and now serves as the women's head basketball coach at Westwood, is just a sophomore and has been playing for as long as she can remember.

Powell, however, says she can't remember the last time she's seen as pure a talent as Sydnee.

"She's been playing all her life and when she plays in adult tournaments, she's not only playing in the 4.0 division -- she's beating these women she plays," Powell said.

Although, while the coach is quick to gush about her star player on the girls side, not to be overlooked will be the other 11 players making the trip from Camilla to Macon today.

At No. 1 singles is Jake Kotter, who lost his first match of the year, 8-6, to Terrell Academy's Clay Willis -- who enters as the No. 4 seed today -- only to rebound and win every match since, including a 8-0 thumping against Willis in their rematch.

"He really wanted to avenge that loss," Powell said. "When it was 4-0, he walked to the back of the fence and told me, 'He's not getting a game.' And he didn't."

Kotter is joined by the player Powell calls her "dark horse" in this year's state tourney: all-around athlete Andrew Adams, who gave up baseball this year to play tennis. Adams enters the No. 3 singles seed.

"He came to my room one day and said, 'I need to talk to you,' " Powell recalled. "I thought it was something bad, but he just said, 'This year, I want to play tennis.'

"Andrew plays every sport you can think of, so we were glad to have him.

Kotter and Adams will be joined by the Westwood doubles duo of Mason Jones and Jay Patel (No. 2 seed), and No. 3 seed Daniel Hays and Daniel Larkin.

Joining Smith on the girls side will be Coley Westbrook at No. 2 singles, Kaycie Eubanks and Annabelle Larkin at the No. 2-seeded doubles team, and Sumner Watson and Kathryn Collins at No. 4.

With several of those names are also members of the defending GISA Class A boys and girls track teams in Camilla, Powell knows the pressure's on to bring home the hardware with this year's athletic and talented group.

"They've played well all year up to this point," Powell said. "Let's just hope it continues."

Also competing in today's state tournament from Southwest Georgia's Class A private schools will be Randolph Southern's doubles duo of Clay Ferguson and Jon-Jon Holbrook (No. 4 seed) and the Lady Patriotss Brooke Taylor and Amber Boyette as the No. 3 girls doubles seed.