Deerfield, Southland tennis teams win region

Deerfield freshman Joyner Tyson won the girls Region 3-AAA tournament singles title Tuesday. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Deerfield freshman Joyner Tyson won the girls Region 3-AAA tournament singles title Tuesday. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — A kid named Hope was talking about heart.

The Deerfield boys were talking about soaking it in, and Joyner Tyson was saying how a ninth-grader has no business winning a region tennis tournament.

But most of all, the kids and coaches at Deerfield-Windsor were talking about how good this felt, how down-to-the-bone good it was to see the DWS girls tennis team win the GISA Region 3-AAA team title Tuesday at Legacy Park, where Deerfield’s voices could be heard on and off the courts.

At one point during the girls doubles finals, Westfield’s Ellen Grier got so tired of hearing Deerfield’s loud fans, she turned to her coach and asked: “Do we have ANY fans?’’

The Southland boys, meanwhile, edged DWS, 28-27, to win the team title, but the girls Region 3-AAA tournament belonged to Deerfield, and to especially Hope Kitchen and Lucy Kelley, the only seniors on the team, who beat Grier and Stephanie Campbell, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, to defend their region title and put the final touches on the team crown.

“This is the moment we have been pointing to all season,’’ DWS coach Meredith Gruhl said after Kitchen and Kelley won the final match of the long day. “When we started the season, they lost their only match of the year to Westfield, and every match our focus was for us to get back here and beat Westfield (in the region final).’’

They did.

The DWS girls took over in the final set, and after falling, 6-3, in the second, they took control and raced to a 4-0 lead, slipped to 4-1, and then put Westfield away, easily winning the final two games.

“Coach Gruhl told us after the second set that it would come down to heart,’’ Kitchen said.

With Hope and heart (and a wicked backhand from Lucy), how could Deerfield lose?

It took heart, and a little heartbreak for DWS to win its first girls team title since 2009.

“We lost to Westfield by one point last year,’’ Gruhl said. “They were mad. They were disappointed. They didn’t want to have that feeling again. They left that region meet and committed themselves to this year. Every team member was committed. Everyone worked hard for that title. They have a great work ethic.’’

It was all about the team championship for Deerfield.

“The team title, that’s what’s important to us, winning the region and getting the opportunity to represent Region 3-AAA as a team at state,’’ Gruhl said. “That’s our goal every year.’’

The top four advance to the individual state tournament next Tuesday in Macon, while by virtue of their wins Tuesday, DWS’ girls team and Southland’s boys team advance to the team tournament April 25 in Augusta.

Kitchen and Kelley were ecstatic.

“It feels incredible,’’ Kitchen said. “I’ve never been to the team state tournament. It was more important to win (the team title). Last year we lost by one point. That was a long bus ride home last year. We had a year to think about it.’’

The feeling stuck at DWS — right up until the minute Kitchen and Kelley nailed everything down.

“We never wanted to feel like that again,’’ Kelley said. “We wanted it so bad.’’

DWS also won its share of individual titles Tuesday. Not only did Kitchen and Kelley win the girls doubles title, but Deerfield’s boys swept the doubles field, finishing first and second, and Tyson, a DWS freshman, dominated the girls singles field, beating Tiftarea’s Anmol Chhina, 6-0, 6-2, in the finals. DWS’ No. 2 doubles team (Paige Hawke and Amy Rao) is also going to the individual state tournament after taking third place with a 6-0, 6-0 win against Westfield’s Sydney Barker and Laura Johnson.

Hawke and Rao almost made it to the finals to face Kitchen and Kelley, but fell to Westfield, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, in the longest and most dramatic match of the day in the semifinals.

The DWS girls ran away to win the team title with 37 points, while Westfield finished second with 19 points. Tiftarea was third with 13, followed by Southland (8 points), Calvary (7) and Sherwood Christian Academy, which hosted the tournament but did not score.

Deerfield got 14 points from Tyson, who went unbeaten in the region during the season, then swept though the competition to win the girls individual title. Tyson finished third in the region a year ago as an eighth-grader and came back to beat Chhina, who had beaten her in the region semifinals a year ago.

But this is the new Tyson, stronger, smarter and gluten-free. She says her new gluten-free diet has helped her on the court, and she’s more committed than ever. She’s played in several USTA tournaments a month in addition to her schedule at DWS, and she even gave up basketball this season to concentrate on tennis.

“One of my (USTA) coaches (Georgia Southwestern tennis coach Brennan Sewell) told me if I focus on tennis and work hard I would have good chance at a D-I scholarship,’’ Tyson said.

That hard work showed Tuesday.

Tyson was never in trouble and the match was never in doubt. She made it look that easy.

It wasn’t.

“(Chhina) is a good player,’’ Tyson said. “I always have a good match with her. But I felt in control.’’

The difference?

“My struggling point is my confidence,’’ Tyson said. “I just get really nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself, and I seem to tense up.’’

That didn’t happen in the final.

“I didn’t put any pressure on myself,’’ she said. “I just said to myself that I have nothing to lose. I’m in ninth grade, I shouldn’t be winning region.’’

It worked. Tyson said she never felt the nerves hit her. And she’s taking the same blueprint with her to Macon for the state individual tournament next Tuesday.

“I have nothing to lose at state,’’ she said. “I’m going there with no fear.’’

Southland, which edged Deerfield, avoided all the drama and clinched the boys title Monday when the Raiders sent three singles players to the semifinals. Sachin Kathori finished second, losing to Tiftarea’s Brian Jordan, 6-0, 6-1, and Southland’s Michael Whittaker beat teammate Kyle Crew, 6-1, 7-6, in the third-place match.

“We knew after the first day that we would score at least 28 points, and we knew the most Deerfield could score was 27,’’ said Southland coach Jimmy Thaxton, whose team won its first title in three years against a field that included Tiftarea (21 points), Westfield (6 points), Sherwood Christian (2) and Calvary (2). “At this point last year, I thought we were going to be pretty awful this year. I thought Sachin was going to college (early), but he came back for one more year, and we had a kid quit the baseball team to play tennis and some others come through for us. We are really pleased to win the region. We snuck through by one point, but we are real happy about winning (the title).’’

The DWS boys doubled up and both made the doubles finals, and both teams advance to next week’s state tournament.

Robert Newsome, a junior, and Reid Wright, a sophomore, won the state title last year and go back to state as a No. 1 seed after coming back to beat teammates Pete Langstaff, a junior, and Will Calhoun, a freshman, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

They play each other all time in practice, but this match was worth a region title.

“We played them on (Monday night in practice) and beat them,’’ Calhoun said.

Well, sort of.

The two doubles teams were at it late Monday in a practice game, and Langstaff and Calhoun were winning the third set 3-2 when the sprinklers came on and soaked the kids on the court.

Calhoun and Langstaff soaked up the win Tuesday.

“They’re good,’’ Wright said. “They definitely make us better, playing them all the time.’’

Newsome then added: “They’re good. It depends on Pete and how he’s playing. You never know what to expect.’’

Wright said he expects both teams to do well at state.

“Hopefully, we will play them at state,’’ he said, knowing the only way the two DWS teams could meet next week would be in the state final. “Last year we lost to Southland (in the region title match) but then we beat Southland to win state

“Maybe (this time) we will play (Langstaff and Calhoun) in the state final.’’