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ALBANY HERALD PLAYER OF THE YEAR, GIRLS TENNIS: Bainbridge's Flournoy queen of the court in 2013

At 5-foot-2, Bainbridge’s Hilary Flournoy knows she doesn’t intimidate many of her opponents — that is, until they start playing. She lost just three matches during her entire Lady Bearcats career and led the team deep in the state tournament twice. The Florida native, who moved to Georgia before her junior year and calls it one of the best decisions of her life, is now headed to Georgia Southwestern to continue her flourishing tennis career and become a nurse. (Photo courtesy of The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight)

At 5-foot-2, Bainbridge’s Hilary Flournoy knows she doesn’t intimidate many of her opponents — that is, until they start playing. She lost just three matches during her entire Lady Bearcats career and led the team deep in the state tournament twice. The Florida native, who moved to Georgia before her junior year and calls it one of the best decisions of her life, is now headed to Georgia Southwestern to continue her flourishing tennis career and become a nurse. (Photo courtesy of The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight)

BAINBRIDGE --- Last week, Bainbridge tennis star Hilary Flournoy saw The Herald’s promo alerting readers to the upcoming release of the staff’s Spring Sports Awards and commented to her mother that she hoped she'd made the All-Area team for the second year in a row.

Good news, Hilary: You made it — and then some.

Flournoy, the Lady Bearcats’ star senior who leaves Bainbridge as arguably one of its most decorated tennis players — or athletes, boys or girls — of all-time, is The Herald’s 2013 Player of the Year for girls tennis. Once alerted of her honor, she made sure that the first person who heard the news was mom.

“I just got off the phone and screamed, ‘YAHHHHHH!!!’ ” Flournoy said with a huge smile across her face. “Then I went into her room — she was sleeping — and I woke her up and was, like, ‘Mom! Mom! Mom! ... GUESSSS what?’ ”

Anyone who knows Flournoy, and the journey she’s been on to get to this point, likely is not surprised. She lost just three matches during her two-year Bainbridge career, led the team from the No. 1 singles spot to the state tournament as a junior and senior, signed with GSW in the spring and was even named the Wendy’s High School Heisman winner for the state of Georgia earlier this year.

Not bad for a young lady who didn’t even know where she would be going to high school just two years ago.

“It wasn’t your normal path,” admitted Flournoy, who went 16-2 this past season, finished unbeaten in region and led her team to the GHSA Class AAAAA Sweet 16 in state. “But I wouldn’t change my decision to come to Bainbridge or the teams I played on for anything. It was a great two years.”

These days, the 5-foot-2 Flournoy is admittedly a “Georgia Peach” — but she’s a converted one. She was born and raised in Tallahassee, Fla., then moved to Quincy, Fla., when she was five years old. Along the way, she became a tennis prodigy of sorts — playing and winning regularly in Florida junior tournaments, which is one of the toughest junior circuits in the country. By the time she reached the sixth grade, tennis had become such a big part of her life and was consuming so much of her time, her parents decided to enroll her in a home school program for aspiring athletes, singers, actors/actresses, etc ... called the “Florida Virtual School.”

In no time, her tennis game blossomed.

“I would spend the mornings with a group of girls just like me working out at Florida State, then do classwork in the afternoons and go back and finish the day working out, conditioning and playing until dark,” she said. “Before I knew it, I was ranked in the Top 30 in the state and playing up an age division in all my tournaments. I wouldn’t always win, but I knew (playing up an age level) was the way to get better.”

And get noticed.

Flournoy established a relationship with FSU tennis coach Nick Crowell, who she worked with regularly while being home-schooled. Flournoy said Crowell used to tell her all the time how much talent she had and that she needed to pursue it.

“I reached a whole new level during those three years I was out of school, but once I got (to that level), I knew I needed to get back into school — a big school — so that I could get some exposure and hopefully one day play college tennis,” she said. “That was the goal.”

But when it was time to enroll in high school once she reached the ninth grade, Flournoy faced a dilemma.

“I really didn’t want to go to any of the high schools in Tallahassee, and I didn’t know much about Bainbridge at the time, so I just went back to where I was comfortable and all my friends were,” said Flournoy, who returned to Quincy and enrolled at Robert F. Munroe High School — a tiny Class 2A school in rural North Florida. “We had an OK team, and my doubles partner and I went deep in state both years I was there, but I knew after two years I needed to look at some place that would have more exposure for tennis.”

Needless to say, once she decided on Bainbridge --- which competes in Georgia's second-largest public-school classification, Class AAAAA ---- coach Amy Thomas welcomed her with open arms.

“As she graduates now, I can’t help but to think of how good this program could’ve been and how much further we could’ve gone had she been here all four years,” Thomas said. “But I was glad she was here for at least two.”

Flournoy’s family moved to Faceville, which is just inside of the Decatur County line, and she burst onto the Georgia prep tennis scene as a junior, going undefeated at No. 1 singles that year and leading the Lady Bearcats team to the Elite 8.

Soon after, the offers started rolling in.

“At one point, I probably had over 100 letters from schools around the country, but most of them were smaller schools in Massachusetts, or Texas or Arizona,” she said. “By the time I was a senior and won the Wendy’s Heisman, I got more interest from bigger schools like Ole Miss and Georgia State and Georgia Southern.”

This created an entirely new dilemma: After two enjoyable years living in Georgia and forming friendships in Bainbridge, this newly minted Georgia Peach actually thought she wanted to stay close to home.

Enter GSW, which offered her a scholarship less than 48 hours after she tried out. And why wouldn’t they? The Lady Hurricanes’ tennis program was struggling and certainly not the frontrunner — or possibly even in the mix — for Flournoy’s talents at the start of the recruiting process.

“I might’ve been able to go somewhere bigger, but after I got the offer to come try out and meet the (GSW) team, I fell in love with the girls, the school and (head coach Brennon) Sewell,” said Flournoy, who plans to major in nursing. “One piece of advice I got early on when I was training with some of the girls at Florida State was to play college tennis where I felt most happy, felt most at home. And I felt that at Georgia Southwestern.

“Plus, I know I’m not going pro, and it was important for me to find a school that has a great program for my major. Tennis won’t last forever, and I knew I needed a degree from a great school to fall back on one day.”

Thomas, for one, can’t wait to keep tabs on her star player just up the road come fall.

“I think she had the talent to play a lot of places, but Georgia Southwestern is a good fit for her because they’re putting together a great team over there,” Thomas said of the Lady Hurricanes, who are also home to last year’s Herald Player of the Year, Sydnee Smith from Westwood. “She thrives on the team aspect of tennis, and I can see her being a leader there just like she was here.”

Flournoy said of all the memories she’ll take away from her time at Bainbridge, her teammates — and not any individual accolade — are what she’ll remember the most.

“Maybe my favorite moment of the year was a match we had against Lee County — a team we had beaten pretty easily before. But before we knew it, things got tight and we were losing in a lot of the matches,” she recalled. “So when I came off the court, me and our No. 2 player (Taylor Greene) had already won our singles, so we spent the rest of the time just cheering the other girls on and helping them out. And I think it made a big difference because we came back in all those matches we were losing and won, 3-2. That’s just one of those team moments where we came together that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.

“I’ll never forget thinking afterward, ‘This is why I came to Bainbridge. This is why I wanted to be part of a team. That was team tennis at its best.”

There was another instance during this past season which reinforced Flournoy’s choice to leave all that she knew in Florida behind and take her talents to the unknown in Georgia.

“We had a very young team this year that grew so much as the season went on that we didn’t even look like the same team by the end of it, and I felt really good about that because I know I helped the girls (and lay a foundation for next season),” she said. “But the one moment that got me was when one of our freshmen came up to me early in the season and asked for my help. After we were finished, she turned to me and said, ‘Thank you so much. I really hope I can be as good as you one day.’

“It really hit me because that was something I used to think about other girls I looked up to when I was coming up. I just felt so proud about how far I’d come at that moment.”

And it made her long and winding journey just that much more worth it.


2013 Albany Herald All-Area Girls Tennis Team

Player of the Year Runner-up

Abbey Anglin, Sr., Baconton

Why She’s here: Anglin was the cornerstone for Baconton Charter’s first state title in girls tennis this past season, leading the Lady Blazers from the No. 1 singles spot all year as their captain. She capped her senior season by going 18-0 — including a crucial win in the state championship match — and was named to the All-Region team for the fourth straight year, as well as the All-State team as a senior.

All-Area Team

Joyner Tyson, So., Deerfield

Why She’s here: Played No. 1 singles, was the GISA Region 3-AAA runner-up with an overall record of 17-4 and made it to the state semifinals, where she lost to the eventual state champion.

Amy Rao (Jr.) and Katerina Mathes (So.), Deerfield

Why They're here:They were undefeated in region play and finished as runners-up in the GISA Class AAA state tournament.

Paige Hawks (Sr.) and Ansley Arrington (Sr.), Deerfield

Why They're here:: Finished as region runners-up with an overall record of 18-3. They were defeated in the opening round of the state tournament.

Julia Davis, So., Crisp County

Why She’s here: The Lady Cougars’ No. 1 singles player finished 17-2, helped lead her team to a region runner-up finish and keep a string of 20 straight state tournament appearances alive.

Ashley Demby, Jr., Crisp County

Why She’s here:The Lady Cougars’ No. 2 singles player finished 16-3, helped lead her team to a region runner-up finish and keep a string of 20 straight state tournament appearances alive.

Sierra Davis, Sr., Baconton

Why She’s here: Like her teammate Abbey Anglin, Davis finished 18-0, doing so from the No. 2 singles spot, and helped lead her team to the school’s first state title in girls tennis. Also was an All-Region First-Teamer all four years, and was named to the All-State team as a senior.

Alissa McCook, Fr., Baconton

Why She’s here: Baconton’s No. 3 singles player burst onto the scene this year and finished 18-0 en route to the state team title. She was also named to the All-Region and All-State team.

Hannah Hayes (So.) and Jaycee Santos (Sr.), Baconton

Why She’s here: Finished 17-1 during the Lady Blazers’ state title run with their only loss coming in the state championship match. Named to All-Region and All-State team.

Di Qi, Jr., Americus-Sumter

Why She’s here: Consummate student-athlete with 4.0 GPA and two perfect SAT scores who finished her first season at Americus 16-1 overall, winning the region title and not losing a match until the Elite 8 round of state.

Lauren Resnick, Sr., Americus-Sumter

Why She’s here: No. 2 singles player for the Lady Panthers who finished the season 20-1 — her only loss coming in the Elite 8 round of the state tournament. She has already signed a Division II scholarship with GSW.

Stephanie Mayfield (So.) and Mallie Rollins (Fr.), Bainbridge

Why They're here: The Lady Bearcats’ No. 2 doubles team that helped lead them to the Sweet 16 at state ad finished 14-4 with an unbeaten region record.

Taylor Greene, Fr., Bainbridge

Why She’s here: No. 2 singles player for the Lady Bearcats who finished 12-3 overall but was unbeaten in region play and helped lead the Lady Bearcats back to the state tournament.

Perra Harrell, Fr., Westwood

Why She’s here: Westwood’s No. 3 singles player who went undefeated in the regular season, won region and advanced further than anyone individual from Westwood at state before losing in the Final Four.

Ashley Bush (So.) and Claire Collins (Sr.), Westwood

Why She’s here: Lost just twice all year and reached the Final Four at state.