By Matt Hill
It’s the sixth-straight Three Rivers or Watauga Conference Championship for the Elizabethton Girls Tennis Team, and it may of been the one the Lady Cyclones had to work the hardest for.
After falling behind the 8-ball by losing to Sullivan East, EHS had to win out and on Wednesday put the final touches on a miraculous season by defeating Unicoi County 6-3 to claim the title.
Once again, the three bottom seeds came through, as Hannah Hulshut knocked off Morgan Rice 8-0, Hallie Collins put together a masterpiece in an 8-2 victory over Emily Lynch and Madison Boles knocked off Kamille Harris 8-3.
The doubles play for EHS was even more impressive as Collins teamed up with Alesha Sisk for an impressive 8-2 triumph over Emily Lynch and Carly Davis, and when top seeded Haley Thacker and Christine Hardin took down Jackie Cordes and Alexis Morley by a score of 8-1, the league title was back in Elizabethton once again.
Hardin added an 8-6 victory over Lexis Morley in what also turned out to be a pivotal match.
Mallory Jackson defeated Haley Thacker 8-5 to put Unicoi in the win column, and Cordes defeated Courtney Evans and Jackson teamed up with Rice for a doubles victory for the Blue Devils.
The day though belonged to EHS and you have to give a lot of credit to Collins for coming out and playing a perfect match that showed that tennis matches are won at the lower seeds.
Collins was consistent in all aspects of her game and when the moment was right, she went for the winner or just tried to make her opponent make the mistake.
For someone who was struggling to be in the lineup at the beginning of the season, being conference champ is something Collins will never forget.
“This feels really good,” Collins said. “We worked hard for it. We practiced a lot and put a lot of time into it.”
Collins’ doubles match may have been more important than her singles as the Lady Cyclones lost at the No. 3 doubles spot last time against Unicoi, but getting a spark from Sisk, the two were just dynamic on this day and couldn’t be stopped.
“If we don’t play as a team it’s not going to work out, and all of us have to play good to win this whole thing,” Collins said.
EHS assistant coach Curtis Brumit had to pretty much start from scratch after losing an incredible senior class, but it didn’t take long for the new kids to buy into the program and to learn the skills needed to play this game.
“We had a lot of new girls this year and they didn’t know quite what it took to get there,” Brumit said. “These girls worked every day and every day they’re staying after.
“Everybody on the team Tuesday had a tennis lesson after school. It takes that kind of work to do what we’ve done and they’ve earned every bit of it.”
Brumit believed the way the bottom seeds played on Wednesday was absolutely incredible and that their performance was one that they should be proud of.
“We can’t credit them enough for what they’ve done in that aspect,” he said. “They’ve seen what the girls have done in the past and they’ve wanted to be those girls. Every day they keep it in their mind that they want to be like those girls in the past, so they keep working and they fight for every single ball on every single point and that’s how they get there.
Hardin also should be credited for staying cool in a tight match, as she made fewer mistakes en route to the key win.
“She always fights, and listens, and learns,” Brumit said. “She is always focused and that is always important in close matches, and it gets her over the top.”
The Lady Cyclones will play probably a Greene County school next Thursday or Friday in the team regional.