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Girls Tennis Players of the Year: Flowery Branch's Bekki Benton and Durden Smith

POSTED: June 2, 2012 8:50 p.m.

Flowery Branch No. 1 doubles team, Durden Smith, left, and Bekki Benton are the Times' 2012 all area girls tennis players of the year. The duo guided the Lady Falcons to their first region championship.

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It didn’t take long for Bekki Benton and Durden Smith to realize just how well they could work together.

The two were put together at the beginning of the season to be the Flowery Branch girls tennis team’s No. 1 doubles team, and while they had been teammates before, the two had never played together.

Benton, a senior, and Smith, a sophomore, were tested immediately.

“We had a tough first match with West Forsyth, and we knew that we were going to see what we had to work with,” Benton remembers. “We beat them 6-4, 6-4, and we looked at each other and thought, ‘it would be really hard for anyone to beat us.’”

They were right.

The duo lost just four sets and two matches (both to eventual state champ John’s Creek) in leading the Lady Falcons to a state quarterfinal appearance and the best season in program history.

For their efforts, they have been named The Times Girls Tennis Players of the Year.

For Benton, the successful season was a perfect way to end her high school career.

“I’ve been with the program for five years, and to have the best year we’ve ever had was just incredible. We never knew what kind of season we were going to have,” she said. “To go out on such a high note, to have had no regrets, it’s just a great feeling that we put everything in it we could, and we couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

And Flowery Branch coach Ginger Jackson couldn’t have asked for a better No. 1 doubles team.

She said she wasn’t sure at first if the pairing would work, but it didn’t take long for her to feel reassured.

“First of all, they’re very good players, but doubles is personalities, it doesn’t matter how good a player is, their personalities need to click,” Jackson said. “They became friends, they bonded, and they compliment each other well; if one had a hard time the other tried to pick her up.

“It became a really neat relationship to watch.”

It also became very successful.

Benton said that their match against Rockdale County in the Region 8-AAAA Tournament semifinals was one of the biggest moments.

After winning the first set, the Bulldogs won the second on a tiebreaker to even the match.

Smith remembered the duo’s exchange after Rockdale tied it up.

“It was three sets, three hours long, and we thought we had it,” she said. “But me and Bekki looked at each other and we said, ‘we’re winning this.’”

They won 6-0 in the third set to lead Flowery Branch to the region final against Heritage, and after a win over the Patriots, the program’s first region title.

Most of their matches weren’t nearly so close, as Jackson came to see the team as very dependable and, most nights, a near lock for a win.

“They were playing well, and they were one we could count on,” the coach said. “We knew that if they went down, they were going to go down fighting.”

Part of the secret to their success was that Benton and Smith complimented each other so well. Benton excelled at the net, while Smith’s strength, as Benton said, was her ground strokes.

“She had incredible returns,” Benton said. “Anytime she had the opportunity to rail on a serve, it was impressive to watch her.

“It was a great team, we really worked well.”

It was a team that could only last one year with Benton having graduated, but the Lady Falcons look to continue their run. Smith, Jackson said, will likely try to get back to singles, which she plays primarily in tournaments in the high school offseason.

Benton has no doubt that her former doubles partner, as well as her former team, will continue to build on last year’s success.

“Durden’s an incredible player, whether she’s playing singles or doubles, she definitely has the ability to go far in tennis,” Benton said. “I know she’s going to be a great leader and asset to the team.”


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