The Wildcat and Lady Wildcat tennis season wrapped up Saturday, April 18 with a fifth place spot for both teams, including the wins of one singles finalist and one state champion.
Pearl River played host to a state tournament for the second year in a row at the Willis Terry Tennis Complex at Tatum Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Wildcats hosted the men’s tournament last year, but this year marked the first time in many years that the men’s and women’s state tournaments were combined.
Ending the year with a record of 5-9, the Wildcat tennis team entered the tournament with high hopes. While overall the team suffered a losing record due to many close defeats, most team members entered the tournament with individual winning records.
At number one, Steven Bracey of Columbia High School finished his freshman year 7-9. After defeating Zach Wright of Northeast Mississippi Community College 6-4, 6-3 in the first round, he fell in the quarterfinal round to the number four seeded Nico Osorio of Copiah Lincoln Community College. Looking for the upset, Bracey pulled out to an early lead in the first set leading 5-2, but despite his efforts, eventually dropped the match 5-7, 3-6.
At the number two singles position, Steven Georgian of Stone High School ended a successful season with a 9-4 record. Having dropped matches to only the number one and two seeded players in the tournament during the year, the number three seeded Georgian met the one other player who had afforded him a loss during a dual match in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. The Wildcat sophomore awarded Outstanding Male Athlete at PRCC for his accomplishments faced off with Tyler Shows of Jones County Junior College with a 1-1 dual record. The match proved to be a close one, both players battling to stay in the running. Georgian took the first set 6-3, but dropped the second 1-6. After being down in the third set, Georgian fought to bring the score to 6-6 and take the final set into a tiebreaker; however, he finally fell to the Bobcat 6-3, 1-6, 6-7(6).
At the number three singles position, sophomore and Belhaven College signee Wesley Graham of Columbia High School ended a challenging season 8-9. During tournament play, Graham defeated Joseph Dees of Holmes Community College 6-3, 6-3 in the first round to advance to the quarterfinals where he upset the number four seeded Matt Wade of East Central Community College 7-6(5), 6-3. Graham faced off against the number one seeded Duffy Loel of Hinds Community College in the semifinal round, but was unable to get a hold in the match falling 1-6, 1-6 to the eventual tournament champion.
Number four singles player, freshman Darnell Sanford of Forest County Agricultural High School also concluded the year with a winning record of 10-7. Sanford defeated Mac Vaughn of Holmes Community College in the first round of the tournament 6-2, 6-3. In the quarterfinal round, Sanford pulled off a very convincing upset, defeating the number four seeded Chris Tapia of Hinds Community College 6-0, 6-0 to advance to the semifinals where he met the number two seeded Reilly Miller of Copiah Lincoln Community College. With a 1-1 dual record with Miller during the season, Sanford entered the match focused and ready for a fight to the last point, and that is exactly what he got. Sanford pulled out the first set 6-4, but was unable to hold onto the momentum falling 3-6 in the second and bringing the match to a third set, finally falling 3-6 after some very tight games.
Sophomore Jacob Aycock of Purvis High School came into the state tournament in the number five singles position 8-6 for the dual match season. Having fallen during the year to only the seeded players of Copiah Lincoln Community College and Hinds and splitting with the number four seeded player of Jones, Aycock entered the tournament confident in collecting some points for his team. However, Aycock was unable to pull out the win, falling in the first round 3-6, 2-6 to Drew Stone of Southwest Mississippi Community College who had spent most of the season playing at a higher position in the line up during dual matches.
Matt Sumrall also of Purvis High School wrapped up his sophomore season on the Wildcat Tennis Team in the best way possible, as a state champion. Sumrall entered the tournament with a 13-1 record, his only loss being to the number two seeded player from Copiah Lincoln Community College whom he had only defeated during their second meeting in the dual match season. Receiving a bye through the first round as the number one seeded player, Sumrall first met up with Aston Leach of Northeast Mississippi Community College, defeating him quickly 6-1, 6-0. The number four seeded Nathan Kanengiser of Jones County Junior College gave Sumrall a definite challenge in the semifinal round. Sumrall got off to a rough start, falling quickly to 1-5, before he was able to get any further games. Sumrall fought off fatigue to bring the score to 4-5 before dropping the first set 4-6. Both players traded holds and breaks of serve to remain basically on serve throughout the rest of the match, resulting in a very tight 6-4, 7-5 victory for Sumrall in the final two sets. In the finals, Sumrall faced off against Cody Rood of Hinds Community College whom he had only seen once during the season. Rood entered the tournament unseeded after not playing much of season, but quickly upset the number three seeded player from Itawamba Community College as well as the number two seeded player from Copiah Lincoln Community College. Nerves seemed to get to Sumrall as he quickly fell behind 1-4 in the first set. However, he found his focus and rolled through the next five games for a 6-4 win in the first set and then dropped only two games in the second set to seal the victory and the state champion title 6-4, 6-2. His final record of the season, an impressive 16-1.
Steven Bracey and Steven Georgian ended the year 8-8 at the number one doubles position. Though unseeded, they were able to collect a point for the Wildcat team by defeating Matt Henegan and Blake Stallins of Southwest Mississippi Community College during the first round of the tournament before falling to the number four seeded team of Landon Williams and Glyn Bowman of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in the quarterfinals 3-6, 1-6.
The number two doubles team, Roy Odom of Gautier High School and Wesley Graham struggled throughout the season with several close defeats resulting in a 5-10 record for the year. Unable to pull it together, Odom and Graham fell in the first round to Witt Lucas and Josh Bascomb of Northeast Mississippi Community College in yet another close match, 4-6, 4-6.
The number three doubles team of Jacob Aycock and Matt Sumrall ended the year 6-8. They too collected a point for the Wildcat team by advancing through the first round with a defeat over Stuart Abel and Eli Whitaker of Southwest Mississippi Community College 6-1, 1-6, 6-3. However, even after battling back to take the second set, the team fell in the quarterfinal round to number four seeded Jason Hancock and Darius Walker of East Central Community College 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
The top three men’s teams Hinds Community College, Copiah Lincoln Community College, and Itawamba Community College advance to the regional tournament in an effort to continue on to nationals. Pearl River was able to collect enough points as a team to place fifth overall in the tournament, falling closely behind Jones County Junior College who placed fourth.
The Lady Wildcats ended their dual season with a record of 8-4, their only team losses being to the eventual state champions Jones County Junior College and the runners-up Hinds Community College.
Freshman Jill Fletcher of Petal High School had a good year at the number one singles position, entering the tournament 10-3, her only losses to the number two seeded Hinds Community College and a split with the number three seeded Jones County Junior College. Because of her dual match performance, Fletcher received a bye through the first round as the number four seed before meeting Elise Gibbs of East Central Community College in the quarterfinals. Fletcher who was awarded the Outstanding Female Athlete at PRCC defeated Gibbs 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals where she fell 0-6, 1-6 to the number two seeded and eventual state champion Daria Egorova of Hinds Community College.
At the number two singles position, freshman Kasey King of Purvis High School finished the year 6-7. After having defeated the number two player during the first dual match with Southwest Mississippi Community College, King dropped a close match during their second meeting when Lisa Hedges was moved from the number one to the number two singles position in the Southwest line up. Hedges continued to play at this position in the state tournament and stopped King in the first round 6-2, 6-2.
At the number three singles position, freshman Alyssa Wolfe of West Marion High School struggled through her first year 3-10. Though she fell in the first round to Megan Terrell of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, she fought hard to achieve her best result of the year against the opponent 4-6, 1-6. Wolfe has been awarded PRCC’s Scholar Female Athlete.
Courtney Spiers of Poplarville High School completed her sophomore year at the number four singles position 5-9. Spiers advanced through the first round of the tournament to collect a point for the Lady Wildcat team by defeating Stephanie Smith of Copiah Lincoln Community College. However, Spiers could not overcome the number four seeded Hailee Melton of Hinds Community College, falling 1-6, 0-6 in the quarterfinal round.
Kristen Barber of West Marion High School ended her freshman year on the Lady Wildcat team in the finals of the number five singles draw. Barber completed her dual match season 10-2 with losses only to the number one seeded Tiffany Hudson of Jones County Junior College. Coming in to the state tournament as the number two seed, Barber received a bye through the first round before quickly defeating Devin Brown of Copiah Lincoln Community College in the quarterfinals 6-1, 6-1. Barber also breezed through the semifinals with a win over Jessica Chism of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 6-1, 6-2. In the finals, Barber faced the only player who had really challenged her all season. Though the games were close, Barber eventually fell to Hudson 0-6, 3-6 and had to settle for the title of state finalist instead of state champion for her first season.
At the number six singles position, freshman Katie Wood of Sumrall High School ended her first year on the Lady Wildcat tennis team 2-7 after several close losses, half of which went to third set tiebreakers to decide the match. Wood entered the tournament unseeded but hopeful of turning those close losses into wins. After receiving a bye through the first round, Wood faced off against the one opponent she had been unable to compete against during the season in the quarterfinals, Ashley Dunlap of Itawamba Community College. Wood was able to hold onto the first set 6-4, but was not able to pull out the second set, falling in a tiebreaker 6-7 resulting in a third set to decide the match. Unfortunately, Wood couldn’t quite get the win, falling 3-6 in the final set.
At the number one doubles position, the freshman pair of Jill Fletcher and Kasey King ended the year 8-5. Three of those losses were to the number two seeded and eventual state champions Daria Egorova and Aline Ferreira of Hinds Community College. Knocked just out of the seeds due to a loss during their only dual match with East Central Community College, Fletcher and King received a bye through the first round only to face the tournament champions of Hinds in the quarterfinal round and fall 2-6, 0-6.
Courtney Spiers and Alyssa Wolfe played the number two doubles position for the Lady Wildcats and ended the year 5-9. Spiers and Wolfe were able to collect one point for the team by advancing through the first round of the tournament, defeating Rachel Ramirez and Anna Powell of East Central Community College 6-1, 6-1. The team came up against the number four seeded team Briana Ashcraft and Chrisa Holley of Northeast Mississippi Community College in the quarterfinal round falling 3-6, 4-6.
At the number three doubles position, Kristen Barber and Katie Wood ended their freshman season 6-5. Receiving a bye through the first round, the team first faced off against Jackie Johnson and Carly Miller of Hinds Community College, defeating them in the quarterfinal round 7-6(5), 6-4. Barber and Wood then had to play the number one seeded Rebecca Rogers and Jillian McNeese of Jones County Junior College. Unable to adjust during the first set, the girls fell quickly 1-6, and were down in the second 1-5. However, Barber and Wood rallied to come back to 5-5 before finally falling 5-7 to the eventual tournament champions.
Jones County Junior College, Hinds Community College, and Itawamba Community College grabbed the top three positions and advance on to the regional tournament. The Pearl River Lady Wildcats placed fifth, falling one point short of the fourth place position attained by Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
In addition to the improved finish of both teams this year and the notoriety of successfully combining the men’s and women’s state tennis tournaments into one large event in a single locations for the first time in several years, Pearl River’s tennis coach Jessica Olson was also elected Men’s Team Coach of the Year by her peers, the other junior and community college coaches. This honor was shared with CoLin’s men’s coach Mike McIntyre while Jones’s Coach Mark Easely received the award for the women’s team.
“I was really excited by our results this year. Most of the team made it to the semis in the tournament and we finally had two players in the finals round. With so many players returning to both the Wildcat and Lady Wildcat Tennis Teams next season, I’m already really looking forward to another great year and a better finish in the tournament,” said Coach Olson. Blake Johnson of Forest County Agricultural High School has already agreed to join the men’s team next fall, and Coach Olson feels that his experience in tournament play will help out the team next year. “We’ve improved every year, and now that improvement is finally resulting in some tournament wins. Hopefully, we will be able to continue to progress in this direction. The depth of our teams has really come along and the members are all dedicated players with plans to pursue their own player development during the summer months. I’m looking forward to seeing what those players will bring to the team in skill and in leadership this fall when we return to school.”
The team didn’t only make an impact on the court, the success of the tournament was a direct result of the work put in by all members of the team. “In addition to the promising results of our teams, I was very proud of the work done during the state tournament by our team managers and players who were not playing in the tournament. The tournament itself was a huge success,” said Coach Olson. “Our number seven and eight players on the women’s team Brittney Bracey and Kristen Burdette, team managers Tony Rice and Dustin Slade, as well as additional men’s team member Donald Franklin all assisted in running the tournament. However, I have to give a big thanks to another of our men’s team members who ran the tournament desk throughout the tournament and got it all done without a single problem, Hunter Aultman. It was a big job and he did great. By the end of the tournament, I think every player there knew who Hunter was.”