By Matt Hill
Coming off a very difficult loss on Wednesday to Sullivan East, the Elizabethton Girls Tennis Team was out to a make a statement.
The statement was made emphatically.
The Lady Cyclones proved that they still were among the Three Rivers Conference’s elite tennis teams after producing a dramatic 5-4 victory over Unicoi County at the Elizabethton High Tennis Courts.
With the win, Elizabethton is back in the hunt for a conference team title and a trip to the regionals.
“They’re fighters and they came back after the East match and talked amongst themselves, and I don’t take any credit for that, the girls get all the credit,” Elizabethton head tennis coach Kenny Hardin said. “East is a good team, and lets don’t take anything away from what they did, but the girls came back strong and were focused and were ready to play today.”
After wins for UCHS at No.1 and No. 2 by Mallory Jackson and Jackie Cordes, the match was probably won in the middle and lower ends of the lineup by Christine Hardin, Hannah Hulshult, Halie Collins and Madison Boles.
Hardin won 8-6 over Lexis Morley, Hulshult defeated Morgan Rice 8-5, Collins knocked off Emily Lynch 8-6 and Boles beat Carly Davis 8-4.
All were hard fought matches between evenly-matched players, but in all cases the Lady Cyclones played the big points to perfection and hit that one extra shot that proved to be the difference.
In the Boles match, she hit several solid shots that Davis couldn’t get to and had perfect placement on her shot.
“We were basically starting over this year, with Haley Thacker, Christine and Courtney being the only returning players.” Coach Hardin said. “We’re a work in a progress, but if the girls keep working hard we’ll be OK.
It surprised Hardin a little bit that some of the more inexperienced players were the heroes.
“You never know what’s going to happen when you get down to that bottom group, but our girls have been consistent and we’ve had a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”
Lady Cyclone tennis player and a standout athlete in other sports, Christine Hardin, is used to winning. Still, pulling a match like this off under the circumstances was a thrilling moment for her.
“This feels great,” Christine Hardin said. “We knew this would be a tough match and a hard win. We went out there and tried our best, and our girls won, and that’s what we needed.”
Hardin, who has played as high as No. 2 in the lineup, played No. 3 on Friday and won, but she even admitted that it was Boles, Collins and Hulshult who were the heroes of the day.
“If it wasn’t for them we couldn’t have done it,” Christine said. “They’ve gotten better each practice, too. Thank goodness they’re on our team.”
The Lady Cyclones are now back in the game as far as winning another conference title, something Christine Hardin is glad to be a part of.
“Now that we have this we’re going to be more focused, especially after what happened this week,” she said. “Now I think we’re going to be on the right track.
The Cyclone boys lost 6-3 to UCHS with Tyler Lee and Ryan Pinkerman winning on the boys side and the doubles team of Zach Peters and Caleb Bailey winning in doubles.
Lee defeated Caleb McNeese 8-3 and Ryan Pinkerman won 8-1 over Nic Chambers.
The top four seeds had a tough day in singles, with Reed Jackson winning 8-2 over EHS’ player Andy Bowers followed by Pacal Koch’s 8-0 victory over Ward Tanner, Matt Holka’s 8-3 win over Zach Peters and Conly Shults 8-3 triumph against Landon Jones, but Coach Hardin felt the Blue Devils were too good on this day.
“The boys played hard and gave it all they had,” he said. “If they weren’t giving it all they had they had they wouldn’t be out there, but Unicoi is tough. We’re not throwing in the towel yet, we have one more date with them. You never know what could happen.
“We’ve got a tough match at Johnson County Tuesday with Carlton Tugman at the top of their lineup, and you have to play hard every night. If you don’t take somebody serious it can happen to you any night.”
The Cyclones also travel to Dobyns-Bennett on Monday for a non-conference affair.