Led by third-year head coach Julia McKenzie, back row, center, the Baconton Charter girls tennis team finds itself already making history today by just playing for the school’s first state title — and now they want to win it. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BACONTON --- Baconton Charter senior Abbey Anglin has been talking about this season for years.
She’s been dreaming of it even longer.
And after Anglin and her Lady Blazer teammates are finished, she’s sure it will be remembered forever.
That’s how important the girls tennis season in Baconton has become this year as the Lady Blazers enter today’s GHSA Class A state public school championship match in Jonesboro against Irwin County.
No team in any sport at Baconton has ever played for a state title, let alone won one.
And the latter could change today.
“We knew this was our year. We knew we would be going further than ever before,” said Anglin, the team’s No. 1 singles player. “Baconton is such a small school that no one thinks we can go very far in something.
“And then, BAM! It happens.”
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
The Lady Blazers (16-3) have molded together a talented group of seniors with an equally talented crop of underclassmen, coming together to form the best team in program history the same year that the Class A private schools broke from the public schools to form their own state tournament.
For years, there have been whispers around the Mitchell County Tennis Center that 2013 would be the year of the Lady Blazers. Three years ago, when Hannah Hays was in seventh grade and started to take tennis seriously, she heard the speculation.
Fast forward to her sophomore season, and the dreams are starting to come true.
“Back in seventh grade was when I started getting into my head who was going to be on the team and where I was going to play,” said Hays, who plays No. 1 doubles with senior Jaycee Santos. “Now that it’s here, it’s almost surreal. It doesn’t feel like it’s all happening.”
Baconton coach Julia McKenzie, who is in her third year with the team, said it all started to sink in for the girls when they beat Telfair County, 3-1, in the state semifinals Wednesday.
That’s when the entire town started to take notice.
“The whole school is looking at us now,” McKenzie said. “I have had several of my students ask me what it feels like to be the first coach to take a team to a state championship match. I tell them, ‘It feels dang good.’ ”
Hoisting the championship trophy would feel even better.
“Words cannot describe how awesome it feels that we are making history for Baconton,” Hays said. “We have been talking about it a lot — even before the season started.”
The Lady Blazers made history last season when they went to the Elite 8, where they lost to Savannah Christian, a private school that had also knocked Baconton out of the playoffs in 2011.
Five players on last year’s team are back this year, including Anglin and No. 2 singles player Sierra Davis.
Davis and Anglin are distant cousins, close friends and the anchors of the Lady Blazer team.
“Abbey is a hard player and puts a lot into it, and Sierra is very consistent,” McKenzie said. “That’s what the other coaches would tell me about Sierra, that she is just so consistent. She doesn’t let the emotions and the drama get to her. She just gets out there and plays her game.”
The No. 1 doubles team of Hays and Santos also return, while sophomore Marcey Bullington, a sophomore, is paired with freshman Susan Bankston at No. 2 doubles. Freshman sensation Allissa McCook tops off the team at the No. 3 singles position.
It’s a group that has grown up together both on and off the courts.
“This is my tennis team, but we are so close that we feel like family,” said Anglin, who recently became the first girls tennis player at Baconton to sign a college scholarship when she inked with ABAC. “We all love each other. Every time I think about it I want to start crying.”
The family has only gotten stronger with freshmen like McCook, who will likely be the No. 1 singles player her final three years with the program.
“Allissa has been playing tournaments for years. We knew she was coming up and that she would complete our singles lineup,” McKenzie said. “Nos. 1 and 2 are really strong in singles, but we have always really struggled with that No. 3 spot. We knew that having three strong singles players would really give us a dynamic team.”
The Lady Blazers have rolled through the state tournament and Irwin County, which beat Gordon Lee in the other semifinal, is 0-3 against Telfair County this season, meaning today’s match could just be a formality for Baconton.
“But you never know what can happen. They can be having a fantastic day, and we could be having an awful day,” McKenzie said. “Telfair has beaten Irwin three times, but it’s been by a little less margin each time. I don’t want our girls to go out there and just think this is ours. This is definitely something they will have to work for.”
The team that hadn’t been to a region tournament until three years ago and doesn’t even have its own courts in Baconton to practice on is closing in on history.
The thought of bringing the first state title to the tiny town of Baconton can be nerve-wracking.
“It’s kind of scary,” McKenzie said. “Everybody looks at you, and they are looking at you to do great things. I want our seniors to have this win and to be able to say they were state champions.”
Anglin couldn’t dream of going out any other way.
“We are going to be crying either way,” Anglin said. “But we want it to be the good cry.”