ALBANY -- Westover boys and girls tennis coach John Scanling freely admits one thing about his teams' chances today in the second round of the GHSA Class AAA State Tournament.
"Would it be an upset if we won?" Scanling repeated the question Monday during the Patriots' final practice at Darton. "Yes, it would. But can we do it? I think we can."
Tennis in Southwest Georgia may not get the respect it deserves at times, but Scanling and Westover hope to change that.
And trying to take down state power and region champ West Laurens today in the Sweet 16 is the first step.
"I want to win (to do my part) and help the team," said sophomore
No. 1 singles star Savannah Boysen, who is 12-2 this season, including last week's first-round win at state against Westside, Augusta. "We've got a really good team this year -- a lot better than last year (when we lost in the first round of state) -- so I hope we can keep playing after (today)."
If that's going to happen for the Lady Pats, it starts and ends with Boysen.
In just her second year on the team, Boysen is the straw that stirs the drink for the Westover girls, who have made it to state every year since Scanling took over in 2004, reaching their farthest point at the state quarters two years ago.
So how does this year's team compare to that one?
"We're far more inexperienced," Scanling said. "But I think we can get points at No. 1 singles with Savannah and No. 2 (with Lizzie Hale) and at No. 1 doubles (with Morgan Barton and Mills Pickett). They've all been playing great (down the stretch). And Savannah is really our leader, more so by her play on the court than anything else. It's nice to know she's here for two more years, no matter what happens (today)."
Boysen, who also played No. 1 singles a year ago as a freshman and comes from a tennis-playing family that hits the courts every chance they get, opened state last week with a 6-4, 6-4, win against Westside's Raley Wright, while Hale beat Sonia Haik, 6-1, 6-4.
Barton/Pickett and the No. 2 doubles duo of Rebekah Brown/Mera Kuntawala picked up Westover's other two points as the Lady Patriots cruised, 4-1, against Westside. Rachel Clenney accounted for the only loss at No. 3 singles, falling, 6-0, 6-2, but will look to bounce back today.
"This season's been a lot of fun," Boysen said. "All the girls get along really well and we don't want it to end. I don't care if we're (the underdog or the favorite today) -- I just want to win."
Westover No. 1 boys singles player Matthew Cannon, a senior, agrees. After all, this is his final chance to represent the Patriots after a long and successful career as their top guy.
"I wasn't sure if the season would still be going at this point after last week, because we barely got by (in the first round)," Cannon said Monday. "But here we are. I know (today) against West Laurens is going to be tough, but we've all been playing well and I hope it keeps going. If not, it's been a great season."
The Westover boys and girls both finished third in the region behind champion Americus-Sumter and Crisp County, but Scanling's bunch just missed forcing a three-way tie for the regular-season region title. He says there was one thing he wanted to accomplish in the first round of state, and that's already been done.
Everything from here forward is simply extra credit.
"I think we're better than a No. 3 seed, and I feel like we have something to prove at state," he said. "It would've been heartbreaking to lose in the first round because then that would've said we weren't any better than where we were seeded. So that first win meant a lot."
But while the girls cruised against the higher-seeded No. 2 Westside program, the boys' plight wasn't quite as easy. The Patriots needed a gut-check win from No. 2 singles player Kyle Ryer, a sophomore, to clinch the match in a nail biter, 3-2, against Johnson, Augusta.
"Kyle's been playing great," Cannon said. "If there's one guy to watch out for this week (if you're the other team), it's Kyle."
Ryer said Monday he just hopes to come through for his team one more time.
"When I was playing my match last week, I started to notice everyone around my court watching. I kind of figured that my match was going to decide it since everyone was so interested and done playing already, but I didn't want to ask," Ryer laughed. "I just put my head down and used the pressure to motivate me to get it done. And hopefully I can do the same (today)."
Ryer took down Mark Coleman, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), while Westover got its other two points in doubles via Edwin Bell/Garrett Hogencamp (No. 1) and Tyler Clenney/Mason Murphy at No. 2. Westover could've locked it up at No. 3 singles even before Ryer's match, but Elliot Nelson lost a tough three-setter, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.
Cannon struggled in his first-round match at state, getting walloped, 6-0, 6-0, by Johnson's Joseph Collins, but there may be a reason for that: The Westover senior, who is 5-2 this season, has been battling injuries all year, and his state opener was one of his first matches back after fracturing his hand late in the year.
But that's not all: He missed the first two matches with a knee injury, and Monday at practice he was dealing with poison ivy he said he "somehow got into during prom."
Cannon said with a wide grin about his series of ailments Monday: "I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't stop getting hurt. But I'm here now -- and I can play with poison ivy, it just itches a little bit."
Scanling, whose boys team enters the match 9-5 overall, while the girls are 11-3, said the season as a whole has been trying at times considering it's the first year he's coached both the girls and boys after coaching only the girls his first six years. But it's been a great ride, nonetheless.
"We're young and we've only got two seniors (Hale and Cannon), so I think just making it this far will give the kids coming back next year something to strive for if we lose (today)," he said. "But we're not going in with that mentality. We want to win. Like I said, I feel we have something to prove."
AMERICUS-SUMTER CONTINUES ITS MARCH THROUGH STATE TODAY:
Not to be overlooked is the region champs in 1-AAA that beat Westover twice this season: The Americus-Sumter Panthers and Lady Panthers.
The girls, who lost their first two matches of the year, then reeled off 13 wins in a row, will host Spalding today as the No. 1 seed out of 1-AAA. The Lady Panthers are led by No. 1 singles star Mallory Pinnell, who has only lost once this season, and Lauren Resnick at No. 2 singles, who has lost just twice. Pinnell's sister, Jennifer, also has had a great season, losing only once at No. 3 singles.
But the bigger story may be the Panthers, who -- at 15-0 and steamrolling everyone in their path -- also host today's second round of state, only against Drew High.
The Americus boys are paced by No. 1 Joel Landis and No. 2 David Cowan, neither of whom have lost a singles match this season, while leading the Panthers to one of their best seasons in school history.