For the second year in a row, Westwood’s Sydnee Smith won state without dropping a game. (Tim Smith/Special to The Herald)
MACON — Westwood School has been around for 42 years. Carole Powell has been around for 25 of those, 10 of those as head tennis coach.
And in four-plus decades, they’ve never seen anyone like Sydnee Smith.
Westwood’s High, Larkin win school’s first boys state title in more than decade
MACON — Will High and Dylan Larkin have been playing tennis together for less than a year.
It sure didn’t look like it Tuesday.
The Westwood duo captured the school’s first state title in boys tennis at the GISA Class A State Tournament by rallying to win in three sets after dropping opener, 4-6, then dominating from there, 6-0, 6-2.
“It feels great,” said High, an eighth-grader making his first appearance at state, while Larkin, a junior, was making his third. “I felt nervous the first match, but that went away as we stepped up our game.”
The doubles duo ends the season without having lost a single match, while Larkin added to the family trophy case after his sister Annabelle Larkin won state in doubles a year ago. The win was also the first boys state title for Westwood in more than a decade, Westwood coach Carole Powelll said.
Powell she knew her guys had it in them.
“I figured they would make a run, but with Will being an eighth-grader, you never know how he would handled the pressure,” she said. “But he handled it beautifully and he and Dylan played great.”
The Westwood senior capped an amazing senior season Tuesday in Macon by winning her fourth straight GISA Class A singles title — a feat that’s never been accomplished at the private school in Camilla — and she did it for the second straight year without dropping a single game in the state tournament.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over. It’s sad in a way, but I’m really happy with how much success I’ve had,” Smith said. “I’ve put in the hard work since (Day 1 of high school) and I think it showed.”
Smith, a three-sport star (basketball and track & field to go along with tennis) has battled a knee injury the last two seasons, but still managed to reign supreme over Class A. She came into the season devoid of any pain in that knee and said she felt good from her very first match. The payoff was a perfect season — in fact, she lost just one game in a set all year, coming last week in the region tournament — capped off by history.
“She’s an amazing player,” Powell said of Smith, The Herald’s reigning two-time Player of the Year. “There may not be another like her ever at Westwood.”
Smith beat her teammate Savannah Jones in the finals, 6-0, 6-0, after Jones, a junior, made it through her half of the bracket to set up an all-Westwood final.
Smith said she had mixed feelings about facing her teammate.
“It’s cool that we both made it, but it stinks that someone had to lose,” she said.
You have to go back to Smith’s freshman year to find the last time she actually lost a match. Sure, she withdrew from a match against Deerfield last year due to that knee injury, but no one has truly beaten her in more than 1,000 straight days on the tennis court.
She attributes much of that to Powell and her tennis coach away from school, her father, Tim.
“He still gives me lots of good advice,” Smith said. “We talked about a lot of different scenarios (and strategy) all year and at state. He and coach Powell have really helped me a lot.”
While others were getting cell phones, mall gift cards and even cars during their formative high school years, Smith’s Christmas present during her freshman season was a ball machine. She’s spent countless hours working on her game at the tennis court near her house since then, and four years later, it’s paid off in a big way.
“It’s pretty awesome to see,” Tim Smith said Tuesday. “And Savannah is a really good player, so I was amazed at how well Sydnee played against her. She may have made 10 unforced errors during the entire state tournament.”
Powell can’t even remember that many.
“Sydnee just controls matches,” the coach said. “She doesn’t double fault, she runs you one way, then runs you another and then mixes in a drop shot. She does all the things you need to do to be successful — including making fewer unforced errors than any player I’ve ever seen. She’s confident and not cocky, and she’s the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet.”
Don’t look now, but another Smith may carry the torch from here. Sydnee’s sister, Callie — an eighth-grader — made it the doubles semifinals as a No. 4 seed with her partner, Mary Parker Westbrook, on Tuesday, before the duo fell short.
Sydnee, meanwhile, hopes to play college tennis from here — she already has offers from GSW And ABAC — but after Tuesday, she only had one thing on her mind.
“Next week is the state team tournament, and now I want us to repeat as state champs there,” she said. “We’ve got a week to improve — because there’s always room for improvement.”