As its coach deals with death of father, Lee County girls tennis reaches Sweet 16 of state tourney

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- In the biggest match of the season for the Lee County girls tennis team Wednesday during the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament, the Lady Trojans went into battle without arguably their most important piece of the puzzle.

Their coach.

But Jill Addison had an undeniably valid reason she wasn't able to make the trip to Ola, where the girls won, 3-1, to advance to next week's Sweet 16.

Her father, former Miller County football coach Ronnie McNease, passed away at the age of 58 just six days earlier -- and the day of the opening-round match happened to be the day of McNease's funeral.

"As soon as they finished," Addison began, "the girls texted me and said, 'We won -- and we did it for you, coach.'

"That really meant a lot."

Addison, in her second year, was back on the court with the girls Thursday for the first time since her father's death, and said she's still in mourning over the loss. But she also knows her father -- a legend in Southwest Georgia who touched the lives of so many young athletes -- would want her to get back to what he always did best: coaching.

"I was glad to get back out there and work with the girls again," said Addison, whose team entered as a No. 3 seed, but beat a No. 2 in Ola. "It's a huge win for the girls because I don't think -- at least in the last four or five years, maybe ever (in the history of this program) -- we've made it this far.

"But a lot of credit goes to (boys coach Jay) Breeden. He really stepped up when I was away."

Breeden, in place of Addison, took the girls to Henry County on Wednesday and delivered a message to them on the bus on the way there.

"We were confident to start with because we'd beaten a team in our region that had beaten Ola, but I just told them on the way up there let's try and win this for coach Addision," Breeden said. "And that's what they did."

No. 1 singles star Katie Brown got the ball rolling when she won easily, 6-0,6-0, then No. 2 Mallory Swearington pulled out a three-setter, 6-4, 4-6 and 6-2. The No. 1 doubles duo of Brittany Moates and Ashley Garcia fought back from a 5-2 deficit to win, 7-5, 6-1 -- giving the Lady Trojans three points, and thus sealing the win.

"After it was over, we all called (coach) Addison (on speaker phone) and she talked to all the girls," Breeden said. "We told her how it went and how tough the girls played. She was really happy."

Addison admittedly needed some good news at that point, having just attended funeral services, where she spoke with solemn well-wishers who came out to show support.

"It was really amazing to see how many people's lives he touched," Addison said of her father. "We had over 500 people alone sign the visitation book."

Addison's team will now play Tuesday in the Sweet 16 against an opponent yet to be determined.

But until then, she and the Lady Trojans will be hard at work on the courts to prepare -- not only in hope of continuing what's turning into a story book state run, but to keep winning for their coach.

Either way, somewhere proudly looking down on his daughter is coach McNease.

"I've got some big shoes to fill," Addison said. "That's for sure."