Lambert’s girls tennis team may have been defending a title at Thursday’s Region 5-7A championships at Fowler Park, but they still couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy.
Milton, the team they were facing to secure that repeat title, beat them 4-1 in the regular season. After that matchup, head coach Lois Mickles looked at her lineup and pondered the changes she could make the gain an extra advantage.
Taylor Despriet had long been the Longhorns’ entrenched No. 1 singles player, but with the kind of variety and smarts she could bring to the doubles game, Mickles followed her gut and switched her out of that spot, while Cheyanne Brooks was put in at No. 1 singles. The changes weren’t popular initially, but Brooks, who played doubles all year, has since seen the positive side of it.
“I was really nervous at first, but I think my volley's improved because of it, so going back into singles was a lot better because I was a lot more comfortable with the net,” Brooks said.
Despriet didn’t finish her doubles match on Thursday, thanks in part to Brooks’ performance. She stayed comfortable after battling some of those nerves early on in her matchup, breaking away late with a 7-5, 6-2 win that ultimately helped the Longhorns repeat as region champions with a 3-0 team victory. The defending state champion South Forsyth boys, who were competing without standout singles player Will Fullett, fell just short to Milton by a score of 3-2.
“We've gone back and forth and mixed up the lineup a little bit towards the end, and I think it's paid off for us,” Mickles said. “It's not always easy -- as a coach you make decisions and everybody’s not happy about it, but in the end you do what's best for the team. This is the outcome.
“I'm not sure it was taken well, but I think it's taken well now.”
In the only doubles match that counted for Lambert, Kate Dufresne and Kaitlyn Hoxie won 6-3, 6-0. Brooke Despreit won handily in No. 2 singles, 6-0, 6-3. Meanwhile, Brooks was battling Milton’s No. 1, which was proving to the most difficult task Lambert faced on Thursday.
“Any kind of short ball to her forehand was dangerous,” Mickles said. “Cheyanne kept her off balance, moved her, kept her going deeper to her backhand, which allowed her to stay on the offense.”
South’s boys were bolstered by strong doubles performances led by seniors, including the pair of Anish Bikmal and Akhil Potturi. The two wins the War Eagles picked up in doubles were certainly needed, with Fullett competing at a national tournament in California.
They dropped all three of their singles matches, but South freshmen Braxton Wright and Lova Metor did everything they could to keep their team in contention. Wright dropped his close match 6-4, 7-5, tying the matchup at two matches apiece. Metor’s match decided the champion, and despite climbing back into contention in the third and final set, he couldn’t quite dig out of his hole, falling 6-4, 6-7. 3-6.
“They had to come in and step up, and they held their own,” South boys coach Jason Steele said. “I'm very proud of them.”
Thursday’s loss may have stung, but it hasn’t affected the War Eagles’ confidence heading into the state tournament. With Fullett coming back to shore up singles, South is looking forward to showing that they’re still state championship material.
“Even though we lost today, we’re going to make a deep run in state,” Steele said. “We’re looking forward to defending our title – we were down a player. We’re one of their top teams in the state and we’ll prove that.”