By Matt Hill
If the Elizabethton Lady Cyclone tennis team goes on to win a conference championship, the Lady Cyclones could look back to seven key points won by Hannah Hulshult Thursday as what did it.
Thanks to a big tiebreak by Hulshult against Sullivan East’s Morgan Murray, the Lady Cyclones won 5-4 over the Lady Patriots and avenged an earlier season defeat in Bluff City at the Milligan College Tennis Courts.
Elizabethton won four of the six singles matches, but in a 9-8 victory over Murray, Hulshult won the tiebreak 7-2 where she hit two forehand winners where she almost looked like a pro.
Hulshult’s forehand is becoming a huge weapon, and that’s what led her and the Lady Cyclones to victory.
“I just knew I had to get them in because I lost last time and I wanted to win this time,” she said. “I knew I could hit it short then hit it long and she wouldn’t be able to get to it.”
Hulshult lost 9-7 to Murray last time they played and East won 6-3 a few weeks ago. Hulshut has improved every single match and on this day, she kept her nerves in check and was able to relax and let her shots rip.
“I had tons of motivation because I needed to win this match,” Hulshult said. “I’ve been working hard all year with this being my first year playing tennis, so I really wanted to win.”
Haley Thacker defeated Savanna Summers 8-2, Courtney Evans lost to Courtney Marlow 9-7, Christine Hardin defeated Bridget Carr 8-3, Madison Boles lost to Madison Taylor 8-5 and Hallie Collins beat Raelan Taylor 8-4.
The lone doubles win for the Lady Cyclones came from Haley Thacker and Christine Hardin, an 8-3 victor over the Lady Patriots No. 1 doubles team.
This match has been circled on the Lady Cyclones’ calendar since that heartbreaking defeat at East. The team wanted to put away all doubt who deserved to have a chance to play for a conference title.
“We were all really motivated,” Hulshult said. “We knew we had to win this one because we knew where we beat Unicoi last time we were pumped and ready to beat East this time.”
The Lady Cyclones will now play at Unicoi Wednesday for the conference championship.
“It feels really good,” Hulshult said. “This will pump us up for Unicoi next week.”
Elizabethton head tennis coach Kenny Hardin knew how big the Hulshult tiebreak was to keeping the team’s conference title hopes alive.
“Hannah came through again,” he said. “For a first year player she’s come through in several big matches and helped the team tremendously this year. We didn’t know at the time how big it was going to be, but it was the most important of the singles matches to finish there and then Haley and Christine came through in the doubles and got the fifth match.”
You also have to credit Collins at No. 6 for coming through with a huge win and for also solidifying the EHS victory.
“She’s worked hard all year long and she got us another win in singles,” Hardin said. “It was really important today.”
The most dominating performance by the Lady Cyclones on the day was from Thacker, an 8-2 winner over Savanna Summers. The Lady Patriot No. 1 seed took Thacker to the distance at East a couple of weeks ago before Thacker prevailed.
Thacker overpowered Summers and though the Lady Patriot is very consistent, Thacker had her serve clicking and her groundstrokes were very strong.
“Savanna is a really good player and I think she frustrated Haley a little bit because she gets everything back. Haley hit very hard and her serves were in. She had a great match,” Hardin said.
Against Unicoi County, EHS is probably a slight favorite based on its win over the Lady Devils earlier in the season, but this is on Unicoi’s home turf and both teams are going to be ready to play.
“I think we’re both capable of winning, and anything can happen,” Hardin said. “We’re happy to be in this position. If you had told us at the first of the year that we would graduate all the great kids who played last year that we would have a chance to win the district we would have thought it would be unbelievable. We’re going to do the best we can against them.”
The Cyclone boys still have a chance at the conference title, but will have to beat Unicoi at Unicoi Wednesday and then win a playoff against the Blue Devils most likely at a neutral site.
On Thursday, Ward Tanner defeated Daniel Umbarger 8-5, Tyler Lee knocked off Hunter Douglas 8-4, Zach Peters won 8-4 over Boone Wallace, Andy Bowers triumphed over T.J. Ellis 8-4, Ryan Pinkerman throttled Cory Fields 8-2 and Landon Jones took down Z. Skinner 8-2.
Bowers-Jones, Caleb Bailey-Zach Treadway and Jonathan Franklin and Ben Sweely all won in doubles.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can next Wednesday and hopefully we will have a chance there,” Hardin said. “I about felt sorry for whoever had to play our boys today because they were like a bunch of caged animals where we’ve had so many rain outs and we haven’t been able to play. I thought they would come out like they did. They took care of business in a hurry today.
* The Cyclones have a busy week next week with a home match against Volunteer Monday in addition to the Unicoi match on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be the District 1-A/AA Tournament at EHS.
* Elizabethton Lady Cyclone standout Haley Thacker will sign a letter of intent to play tennis for UVA-Wise Tuesday around 3 p.m. at the Elizabethton High School Tennis Courts. All friends of Haley and supporters of Cyclone tennis are welcome to attend this special occasion.