Beneath the green leafed pine trees of Lake Lanier, Gainesville High’s boys and girls tennis team held court at Longwood Park for their first postseason matches. The Region 8-6A tournament began Wednesday morning after weather pushed the tournament back a day.
Both Gainesville High boys and girls were two-seeded, earning a first round bye. The boys swept three-seeded Dacula, 3-0, while the girls lost to three-seeded Winder-Barrow, 3-1.
“I told them to go out there and play their games, stay focused on winning,” Red Elephants coach Clark Weaver said. “It’s easy to go out there — we beat them 5-0 last time — thinking ‘We’re going to kill them’ but in the region tournament, teams come to play. They’re going to be better.”
Now, Gainesville will face Lanier for the region championship and top spot in the state tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday at Longwood Park. With the semifinal victory, the Red Elephants are guaranteed a first-round home playoff match for the Class 6A state tournament next week.
Against the Falcons, Weaver set up Dylan Pineda, his most consistent player, for the first singles match of the day. On the court behind Pineda, the doubles pair Caleb Anderson and Michael Head clinched the first point of the day for the Red Elephants, winning the first two sets, 6-0.
Soon after, Pineda notched the team’s second point in two sets. The junior’s parents watched nearby as their son’s victory brought the Red Elephants closer to the finish line.
“It hypes me up knowing that they’re watching,” Pineda said. “They make me play better.”
He’s a leader amongst a sea of youth.
“I feel like I bring hope to the guys,” Pineda said. “They call me a god here, so I’m glad I can bring their hopes up. And hopefully we’re going to win tomorrow.”
Pineda’s comments might read fatuously, but Weaver, the seventh-year coach, makes sense of the bold statement by his best player.
“Dylan’s probably the most consistent player I’ve ever had,” Weaver said. “I know what to expect and he’s going to go out there and play his game. Some players like to fluctuate in level with whoever they’re playing against, but he doesn’t. He stays consistent, plays his game and stays positive.”
At No. 2 singles, Philip Mady sealed the team’s place in today’s championship with a two-set sweep. Several times during the match, Mady asked for Weaver’s advice on the point ahead. Each time, Mady would take his nuggets and run with them.
“If I give him some advice during the match, I can count on him to do it,” Weaver said. “He’s got a good game. He’s going to hit the ball hard and still be consistent. Not very many weaknesses, but he’s got weapons to win points, which helps. He’s probably the most coachable kid I have as a freshman.”
While the boys sailed through their matches, the Lady Red Elephants encountered strong resilience from the Bulldoggs.
“Every match counts but today was pivotal,” Gainesville girls coach Kendall Gruhn said. “A lot of these girls stepped it up, but we made some mistakes and we’ve got some stuff to work on.”
The doubles pair Callie Patterson and Grayson Wagner lost the first match of the day in straight sets for Gainesville, but both left the court with a smile on their faces, posing for a photo with their opponents.
Grace O’Keefe then fell in her singles match after a heartbreaking first-set, tie-breaker (7-5). She wouldn’t recover and lost the second set, 6-0.
Winder-Barrow ensured its spot in the championship round after Gainesville’s Hannah Williams dropped a close first set, 7-5, and lost the second set, 6-1.
“I’m not disappointed,” Gruhn said after embracing Williams post-match. “They left their hearts on the court and that’s what I ask them to do and they did. It’s bittersweet because I have four seniors, but I’ve also got two freshmen and one sophomore. We’ll be back (for the region title) next year, though we’re losing a lot this year, but I really wanted it for these seniors.”
Two of her beloved seniors secured the Lady Red Elephants’ lone point of the day, Savannah Brown and Hannah Wagner — or as she likes to call them, Havanah.
“I’m so happy for those two seniors for getting the win,” Gruhn said. “That was sweet because they came back in the third (set) after losing the first set pretty bad. I was really proud of that.”
In the third-place match, Gainesville faces Dacula at 10 a.m. at Longwood Park.