For the second consecutive season, it will be an all Buford-Flowery Branch showdown for the Region 8-5A tournament tennis championships.
And it was all decided in ample time on the sun-soaked courts at Buford City Park on Tuesday.
After securing a first-round bye, the top-seeded Lady Falcons showed little rust as they dropped one game in a 3-0 sweep of Johnson and solidified a spot in the 8-5A final for the second-straight year. Meanwhile, Sean Gilbert’s two-seeded Lady Wolves blanked Cedar Shoals and Loganville to solidify a rematch of last season’s championship set for 5 p.m. today in Buford.
Flowery Branch girls coach Ginger Jackson and Gilbert expect nothing less than a tight bout for the title, and what may be the last time these two programs meet on this stage for the time being with Flowery Branch moving down a classification this fall.
“We’ve played (Buford) for years, and regardless of region or not, it’s always a battle,” said Jackson. “I put my best lineup out there, the girls come out and do the best they can do, and the pieces fall where they may.”
“That’s why this setup and getting to do this is so much fun,” Gilbert said. “These are two of the best girls tennis programs in the state, and we’re just as excited to compete one more time before (Flowery Branch) leave(s) the region.”
On the heels of back-to-back region runner-up finishes, Gilbert hopes to see a different outcome this time around with a predominantly young starting lineup. Last spring, the Lady Falcons overcame one-set deficits in three lines to defeat Buford for their first 8-5A championship (fourth overall under Jackson).
“We have to maintain our poise, finish while we’re on top (this time),” the Buford coach said. “ ...Being younger, it’s essential for us to maintain our composure and put them out, because Flowery Branch has had the upper hand last couple of times, and they have an experienced lineup.”
However, Buford didn’t divulge its youth in the semifinal against Loganville. Alex Mann in No. 1 singles (6-0, 6-0), senior staple Kenzie Walters (6-0, 6-1) and the top doubles tandem Sydney Grothe/Kenzie Harms (6-1, 6-0) all rolled to stress-free finishes to clinch the win.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s squad certainly put their best foot forward Tuesday after an 11-day layoff, taking three of five lines in under an hour in the semifinal match. Senior Olivia Correa got things going with a straight-set win (6-0, 6-0) over Perla Rivera to keep her unbeaten record intact at No. 2 singles. Minutes later, the Lady Falcons’ top doubles pair of fellow senior Brenna Martin and Alyssa McSpadden followed suit with a 6-0, 6-1 win for the second point. Olivia Nance (No. 3 singles) neared the finish while up a set and 4-0 against Johnson’s Morgan Langley when Annabelle Thomas clinched in a straight-set (6-0, 6-0) win at No. 1 singles.
BUFORD BOYS, FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS ADVANCE: It took just over an hour for the top-seeded Wolves to record a 3-0 win against Clarke Central, while two-seed Flowery Branch took care of business with a 3-0 shutout of Johnson in the semifinals Tuesday.
Minutes after Cameron Deloach/ Alex Pruitt in No. 2 doubles won 6-0, 6-1 for the Wolves first point, Brady Todd — the team’s rock at No. 1 singles — recorded a straight-set (6-1, 6-1) win. The senior pair of senior Trent Milton and Kurt Knudsen clinched for Buford with a 6-2, 6-1 win in No. 2 doubles.
Gilbert was pleased to see his four seniors continue to set the pace.
“It’s such a blessing to look on the court and see that senior leadership,” the coach said. “It’s critical.”
The depth of the Falcons — now in a fifth-straight region final appearance — showed on the court. John Hollis and Brady Millwood in No. 1 doubles (6-0, 6-0), Gunnar Hetzel and Brady McVey in No. 2 doubles (6-1, 6-1) and Nathan Holley (6-0, 6-1) in No. 2 singles clinched for Flowery Branch.
The senior-laden Wolves may be gunning for the repeat, but they will have to get through the Falcons once more. Third-year coach Stacey Smallwood expressed that her young flock of Falcons have gained strength since the previous two encounters with Buford.
Gilbert has taken note, especially with a few of their returning starters to include Holley. After missing the previous two seasons, Holley is expected to supply additional fire for the Falcons in the title match.
“They have a key returner in Nathan Holley, which makes a big difference in their lineup, top-to-bottom,” Gilbert said. “That changes everything, and makes them tougher. With that said, our lineup has been pretty consistent throughout the year. ...I hope our seniors can go out on a high note.”