The Flowery Branch High girls tennis program’s magical run ended in heartbreak Friday, May 4, with a Class 5A semifinal loss to Kell.
But for longtime coach Ginger Jackson, she saw a Lady Falcons team that truly belonged, even if this was the squad’s first time on this particular stage.
The No. 1-seeded Lady Falcons went swing for swing against the 2016 state runner-up Lady Longhorns before ultimately falling short, 3-2, in Marietta.
“They battled,” said Jackson. “We had to hit shots to play and to win. … I felt good that we were worthy opponents. We deserved to be there, competing against a program with that amount of success.”
Kell, which has reached the semis in each of the last four seasons, advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Buford/No. 1 seed Chamblee on May 12 at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
Due to a limited number of courts at Kell’s facility, Flowery Branch had to endure this three-hour bout in the heat. After junior No. 1 Annabelle Thomas (4-6, 1-6) and senior No. 2 Olivia Correa (2-6, 2-6) fell in a pair of tough singles matches, the Lady Falcons looked to their doubles teams to rally.
The senior/freshman duo of Brenna Martin and Alyssa McSpadden cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 win in No. 1 doubles for the visitors’ first point.
After dropping an opening-set tiebreak, twin sisters Kendalle and Alicia Quast — Flowery Branch’s freshman pair at No. 2 doubles — stormed back to win the final two sets (6-1, 6-1) and knot the match at 2-all.
It all came down to sophomore Olivia Nance (No. 3 singles), who despite taking the first set 6-2, couldn’t sustain the pace as she ultimately lost the final two sets 2-6, 2-6.
“We did everything possible to win, it just didn’t turn in our favor today,” said Jackson, whose 10th season as the Lady Falcons coach ends with a 22-3 mark.
“Just like you have to do as a program, as a coach, you have to gather your thoughts — and like I told them in the huddle — if you want to be here next year, you can’t drop your racket. We gotta keep playing.”
With three freshmen, a sophomore and one junior on this year’s state semifinal squad, Jackson is encouraged by what the future holds. She also must wave goodbye to seniors Martin and Correa, two veteran pieces that led the program to back-to-back Region 8-5A crowns (three overall) and the program’s most successful campaign to date.
“It’s hard to shut a chapter, and for them to be a part of the success — and really lead the way this year — they both stepped up as seniors and leaders,” Jackson said. “These girls have kept going because of that leadership. I am so proud of them.”