By Matt Hill
Though the Blue Nation took a stranglehold over the District 1-A/AA tennis tournament on Friday, the day Landon Jones and Andy Bowers had was a pretty good one as well.
The Elizabethton High School doubles team advanced to the Region 1-A/AA tournament next week in Greeneville by defeating Daniel Umbarger and Hunter Douglas from Sullivan East 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.
The championship match was a different story as Reed Jackson and Pascal Koch trumped Bowers and Jones 6-2, 6-0 to win the championship.
The rest of the titles were won by Blue Devils, with Lexis Morley and Jackie Cordes defeating Elizabethton’s Christine Hardin and Haley Thacker 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the girls doubles final; Mallory Jackson won against Makenna Smith of Sullivan North 6-0, 6-1 and Matt Holka edged by Johnson County’s Carlton Tugman 6-4, 6-2. All finalists move on to the Region on May 14 in Greeneville.
While the Devils were celebrating an unbelievable day, the Cyclones performance was very respectable in its own right.
Bowers and Jones had to face off in the finals with the team that defeated EHS teammates Zach Peters and Ryan Pinkerman 6-0, 6-2 — and though that match was just as tough for them as it was for their teammates, the semifinal is what the two will remember most.
With Bowers and Jones always having plenty of family support, the tandem made them proud with a stellar win that included some outstanding play at the net.
“It feels great to be going back to regionals,” Bowers said. “It feels absolutely wonderful. It’s been a different person, but we worked hard all year and deserve to go to regionals.”
Last season the two actually faced off against each other in the District and Regional finals with Bowers being paired up with Peters and Jones with graduate Elijah Shingleton.
“They beat us last year, so having somebody I know who is just as good as I am is great,” Jones said.
The two were very focused in the semifinals and played their style of game, which is to attack the net.
Bowers really set the tone with several balls put away by volleys.
“My net game was really good along with Landon’s as well,” Bowers said.
The two Cyclones, who won the first nine games of the match against the team from Bluff City, do play very well together with Jones sporting a strong forehand that when on gives opponents fits and Bowers’ sporting a very consistent and steady ground attack with both being very good at the net.
“After every point we get each other pumped up and ready for the next point,” Jones said.
In the region, the Cyclone duo knows there are things they will have to do in order to get over the hump.
“There are some things we need to improve on because we want to meet those guys (Jackson and Koch) and we plan on meeting those guys in the final,” Bowers said.
Hardin and Thacker played a duel against Morley and Cordes. and it was a far cry from the 8-1 whitewashing the Lady Cyclone team gave the Lady Devil squad on Wednesday.
This match, unlike Wednesday’s when it was played after EHS won the team conference title, was an all out battle between two sets of girls wanting to desperately win the championship.
The turning point in the match might have been when with EHS ahead 5-3 in the first set, Cordes and Morley went to a strategy that ended up paying off when they turned the rallies into a lob contest.
The lobs seemed to throw Thacker and Hardin off a little bit. They did hold on for the first set win, but that set the stage for a Blue Devil comeback.
The Lady Devils broke early in the second set and then some tremendous rallies took place that included an incredible volley for a winner by Cordes that gave Unicoi a 5-2 second set lead en route to forcing a third and deciding set.
Thacker and Hardin did regroup in set three, then the match became a battle of who wanted to hold serve, as there were several breaks in the third set.
The Cyclones did not go down without a fight and when Hardin hit another one of the many great volleys in the match, the Cyclone duo was tied at 4-4.
Cordes and Morley though were just too good, once again having the lobs working in game nine of the set and were able to break to go ahead 5-4. They served the match next game and brought the title to Erwin.
Elizabethton assistant coach Randy Kourschak is proud of the two doubles teams for advancing one step closer to Murfreesboro.
“They’ve worked so hard and I’m proud of them,” he said. “I’m proud of all them for what they’ve accomplished this year, and of course our girls get to move on as a team.”
Tyler Lee and Madison Boles lost in the semifinals, but played extremely well against two tough opponents in Johnson County boy Carlton Tugman and Unicoi girl Mallory Jackson. Lee actually only lost 6-0, 6-4 to Tugman.
Tugman came out on fire against Holka, winning the first three games of the match by placing his shots well and setting up the winner. Holka answered back and took over the match, but a possible second matchup next week might be different.
Greeneville looks to be his toughest competition on paper from District II.