Tennis is widely known as an individual sport, with individual competition taking precedence over team play at the professional level.
Tennis was a little bit different for Lambert this past season.
The Lady Longhorns were stacked with talent, from top singles player Caroline Wakefield to their line two in Brenna Reilly, but it was the doubles team of senior Jess Owen and junior Madison Benefield that Lambert coach Lois Mickles felt made the biggest difference during their improbable 20-1 campaign, with the only loss coming to Class AAAAAA juggernaut Walton in the state quarterfinals.
“Jess was simply that good,” Mickles said.
Owen, a senior, played up front in the tandem with Benefield, and the duo combined to go undefeated through regular season and region play.
It was the seniority, tenacity and team-focused personality of Owen that held the talented squad together—that kept them as a single, cohesive unit. For a sport like tennis, Owen said it was a unique dynamic that other teams didn’t have.
“It’s funny because we played our best, but we were so loose and never really worried about the outcome of things,” Owen said. “The team aspect with us was so great, which is special because you don’t always have that with individual sports at the high school level.”
Question: What’s the biggest difference between playing singles and doubles?
Owen: “I had experience at singles from when I was younger but just didn’t enjoy it quite as much. It was a lot more running, longer points, it’s slower. Doubles is more fast-paced, about reflexes and anticipation and things like that, so I really enjoyed it more.”
Question: How is it balancing the court with another partner?
Owen: “My partner is awesome. (Madison) is a great baseline player. We worked really well together. Freshman year I started out as a singles player and didn’t win a lot. Being a freshman, you’re nervous, and everyone’s older. You feel a lot of pressure. Sophomore year I started playing doubles with my partner at the time, who was a senior, and we ended up having an undefeated season that year which was awesome. So I kind of just went from there.”
Question: What was the wind down of your senior season like?
Owen: “It was definitely sad for me because I’m so used to looking forward to tennis, getting out of class early, and the team aspect. Toward the end of the season I started to freak out about it all ending, but I’m going to try to play club tennis at Georgia Tech, so I have that to look forward to.”
Question: What do you plan on majoring in at Georgia Tech?
Owen: “Environmental engineering.”
Question: Getting into a school like Tech is hard work. What went into balancing playing a sport and excelling in the classroom?
Owen: “For both academics and tennis it was a commitment and telling yourself you have to keep doing something or you’re not going to get better, or you could get worse. It’s a lot of hard work to balance the two I think but with tennis it’s all about repetition, and I think that applies to school too.”