May 16, 2018 10:39:16 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
There is power in numbers for the Heritage Academy girls tennis team.
In a sport where individual pursuits sometime overshadow team accomplishments, the Lady Patriots worked this season toward one goal: doing their part to help the squad win a state championship.
Sunny Logan didn't have the luxury of a deep support system. In only its second year of existence, the Caledonia High School tennis team looks to Sunny and Hunter Logan as its top two individuals to lead a growing program.
But last week Logan found a way to make her situation work just as effectively as Heritage Academy's. The end result turned out to be the same, as Heritage Academy won the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA State Championship last week in Vicksburg and Logan captured the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State title last week in Jackson.
For their accomplishments, the Heritage Academy girls tennis team and Logan are The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I am going to be perfectly honest, I didn't expect anything less," Heritage Academy tennis coach Billy "Gip" Clark said. "I knew if we won all of our first-round matches we would win the state because there was no way anybody else could catch us."
Sydney Imes won the No. 1 girls singles crown, Grayson Jones was a finalist at No. 2 singles, Stella Nichols and Haley Barker won No. 1 girls doubles, Emily Howard and Abby Amos were finalists at No. 2 girls doubles, and Sarah Curtis and William Laws won the mixed doubles title to lead Heritage Academy.
"We had a good team before Sydney Imes joined the team and she just made us better," Clark said. "We have several eighth-graders who will be ninth-graders, and I expect them to vie for spots next season."
The Heritage Academy girls and boys tennis teams won the MAIS North AAA titles earlier this month at Magnolia Tennis Club. The girls won the title with eight points. On the girls side, Jones won the No. 2 girls singles, Nichols and Barker won No. 1 girls doubles, Howard and Amos won No. 2 girls doubles, Imes was a finalist at No. 1 girls singles, and Curtis and Laws won the mixed doubles.
"Everybody who played came out and practiced a ton," said Nichols, who said it probably was the favorite season of her career. "Everybody worked so hard. They came out every day and played with a smile. It was just a good environment. It worked out really well. We played really hard this season and it worked out in the end."
Clark, who is the manager at the Magnolia Tennis Club, serves as coach for the Heritage Academy and Caledonia High tennis teams. He said depth was a key part of the Heritage Academy girls team's ability to win the state title. He said he was especially proud of how the team came together with only one senior -- Nichols -- and blended its talents to raise the games of all of the players.
Barker admitted she was "a little nervous" at the beginning of the season because she wasn't sure how dedicated the younger players were going to be and if they were going to try to earn their spots. But she said the younger players impressed her to create a deep roster that featured plenty of challenges during the season that helped make everyone better.
Jones said the maturation and contributions of the younger players fostered a sense of confidence that fueled the team in the postseason.
"We all felt pretty confident (going into the state tournament)," Jones said. "We didn't really think about it that much. We just went out there and played and did our best."
Losing only Nichols, it's easy to see why Clark is just as excited about next season.
"I am looking forward to next year," Clark said. "Stella is the only senior, but she was a good senior. She and Haley played really well at the state tournament. Sydney played well. Grayson played well in her first match and then we don't know exactly what happened. She started to feel sick. ... I think the heat got her. ... William and Sarah played really well."
At Caledonia High, Logan said she wanted to put "a little extra effort" into this season in hopes of winning a state title. She admitted she didn't feel she had prepared enough in 2017 after she lost in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A State tournament.
"I have put in the work and have been confident in my shots, and I have pushed through in the state tournament," said Logan, an eighth-grader who has been playing tennis since she was 7 years old. "I was down 5-2 in the state tournament and I knew I could do it and I could push through and come back and win that set. You just have to believe in yourself and do what you do in practice."
Logan said she served to move the match back to 5-2. She said she broke Richland's Addy Seward three times in rallying to win the set even though she doesn't consider serve receive to be one of the strongest parts of her game.
"I knew going into it that I really, really was pushing hard," Logan said. "Last year, I didn't realize how strong the competition was and I really underprepared, so this year I had to make sure I overprepared a little bit."
Clark said Logan's loss in the state tournament served as motivation throughout this season. The third-seeded Logan defeated Seward 7-5, 6-2 in the championship match. Logan avenged the loss to New Albany's Maggie Scott in 2017 with a 6-0, 6-1 victory in the semifinals. The wins capped an undefeated season in which Logan didn't drop a set.
"She said she was not going to lose against (Scott)," Clark said. "I brought it up some. I didn't want her to forget."
Clark said Logan isn't one to forget a detail like that. He said she also isn't one to miss a practice session. In fact, he said she is a frequent playing partner to many of the club members. Clark said Logan was back at the club last Thursday ready to practice a day after winning a state title.
"She is real determined," Clark said. "She is patient and she has a little killer instinct. Her skill and work ethic are unbelievable."
This past weekend, Logan won the 14 girls singles division at the Candy Classic Memorial in Corinth. She defeated Reagan Salter 6-0, 6-0 in the championship match.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.