GISA STATE TENNIS TOURNAMENT: Westwood's Smith captures 3rd straight state title; Lady Wildcats win doubles crown; DWS No. 1 duo conquers AAA

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MACON -- It was a day of streaks and a day of firsts Monday for the Westwood and Deerfield boys and girls tennis teams.

The biggest story, however, was that of Lady Wildcats junior Sydnee Smith, who didn't drop a game en route to her third straight GISA Class A State Championship in Macon. Not to be outdone, meanwhile, were Smith's teammates, seniors Kaycie Eubanks and Annabelle Larkin, who capped their careers with state crowns of their own at No. 1 doubles.

"It feels awesome," Larkin said Monday evening. "Sydnee was really the only girl from our school to ever win at state, so it feels great to join her and do it in mine and Kaycie's final season together."

Another first Monday came a few hours later when Deerfield's No. 1 doubles duo of freshman Reid Wright and sophomore Robert Newsome won it all in Class AAA, bringing the school its first state title in boys tennis since 1998 when the Knights won it as a team that year.

"It was just nice to win it, but it was also great to beat Southland for the title after we lost to them in the region finals," said Newsome, referring to their 6-3, 6-4 win against Southland's Ryan Singley and Sachi Kothari in the finals Monday after Kothari and Singley upended the duo for the 3-AAA crown three weeks ago. "We knew we could beat them because we did it twice during the regular season, we just played bad at region. It was so sweet to get that revenge."

Smith's opponents, meanwhile, have been plotting revenge ever since last year when she steamrolled her way through the state bracket as a sophomore and only lost one game en route to her second crown.

But they'll have to wait another year to get it after Smith won her quarterfinal match, 6-0, 6-0, her semifinal match, 6-0, 6-0 and her final match .....

Well, you get the picture.

"I went back and looked up a stat I thought was very neat when it comes to Sydnee's domination at state the last four years ever since she lost in the semis as an eighth grader, then went on to win three in a row," Westwood coach Carole Powell said. "Her record at state is 175-23 (games won vs. games lost) -- and she lost 18 of those as an eighth-grader. That means she's lost just five games in the last three years at state -- four as a freshman when she won her first title, one last year and none this year.

"What she's done is amazing. We're all so proud of her."

Smith, The Herald's reigning Player of the Year for girls tennis, was more modest about her feat. She also didn't want to start talking about going for four in a row next year considering that Region 3-A champion Westwood still is in the running for an overall team state title, the quest for which begins Wednesday in Augusta at the GISA Team State Championships.

But make no mistake, Smith was certainly happy to reach the goal she set out to accomplish at the beginning of the season -- a season that was trying at times due to a nagging knee injury which forced her to miss half her matches.

"(The win) feels good, but I'm not thinking of anything else but Augusta right now. I'm just trying to stay focused. My opponents were good, but (Monday) I just played really well. I was really consistent and (all phases of my game) were working," said Smith, who beat last year's finals opponent, Savannah Seagraves of Oak Mountain, in the semis Monday, then dispensed of Lauren Bridgers of David Emanuel in the finals.

Both matches lasted under an hour.

"My knee didn't give me any problems because I've been doing what the doctors told me (in terms of rehab). So it felt fine (Monday)," said Smith, who was diagnosed with patella tendinitis at the mid-point of the year.

But you wouldn't have known it Monday.

"You couldn't even tell she'd been hurt. She just dominated, and I think (her win this year) was even easier than last year," Powell said. "I really felt bad for her finals opponents because (Lauren) went three sets and her match lasted something like three hours in the semis, and then she had to go play Sydnee, who won her semifinal in 45 minutes or so. Then Sydnee just blew her off the court in about the same amount of time."

The road wasn't quite as easy for the duo of Eubanks and Larkin, who needed three sets to beat the team from Oak Mountain in the semis, losing the first set 6-4, before rallying to win the last two, 6-3, 6-1. Then they beat Crisp Academy's Erin Smarr and Ashley Purvis in the finals, 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) to claim the crown one year settling for a disappointing fourth at state.

"Last year, we came in fourth, and Annabelle and I said we had to come back the next year and win it all -- and that's what we did," Eubanks said. "We stayed positive through the whole season and it was just awesome to end on top."

Powell said she didn't know what to expect out of Eubanks and Larkin because she knew the competition was tough, but was pleasantly -- but only mildly -- surprised by the result.

"I told them before we went to Macon that it was time to bring it -- and they did," she said. "They just peaked at the right time and I couldn't be prouder. And to think, three years ago, I was looking for some more girls to join the tennis team and I found those two sitting in the library together, and I said, 'Would you ladies like to come out and play?' And they said, 'Sure, that sounds like fun!'

"And here they are, three years later, state champs."

The news was not quite as good for Westwood's other member of its team that made it to state, No. 1 boys singles star Jake Kotter. Kotter, a senior, wrapped his Wildcats tennis career with a runner-up trophy after winning in the semis Monday, only to fall to Baba Gana of David Emanuel, 6-1, 6-0.

But where one boys tennis star from Southwest Georgia faltered, two more in Newsome and Wright brought home the hardware.

Even more impressive? The duo didn't even start playing together until a month ago.

"After we lost to Tiftarea (in late March), I decided we needed make our doubles stronger and I moved Reid from No. 2 singles to No. 1 doubles with Robert and they only lost one match the rest of the way -- and that was in region to Southland," DWS coach Meredith Gruhl said. "And they sure made up for that loss Monday."

Newsome and Wright won their semifinal match against Camden Jones and Aaron Sutton of Tattnall Square, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, then took down Singley and Kothari in the finals to extend Deerfield's overall state title streak to seven in a row. The girls doubles had won the last six, but that ended Monday when Hope Kitchen and Lucy Kelley lost in the semis, leaving the onus on the boys to keep the streak alive.

"I'm sad for Lucy and Hope, but I couldn't be any prouder of Robert and Reid," Gruhl said. "And to have the opportunity to avenge that loss to Southland in the finals at state just made it that much sweeter."

Newsome said he and Wright didn't know what to expect when Gruhl made the risky move of switching the lineups midseason, but when they took the court for the first time -- ironically, against Southland in late March -- they walked away with a straight-sets victory, and brimming with confidence.

"We won that first match and Reid's dad told us afterward, 'You guys play well together. I really think there's a good chance you may be able to win state,' " Newsome recalled. "That really made us believe we could do it. And with us having two years left to play together, we told coach Gruhl (on Monday after we won) that -- if possible -- we'd like to keep playing No. 1 doubles for the next two years.

"After all, once you win one, all you can think about is a repeat."