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High school tennis playoffs: Flowery Branch girls clinch first-ever state semifinal berth
Lady Falcons sweep Union Grove, 3-0 in Class 5A quarterfinals
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Olivia Nance of Flowery Branch hits the ball on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Flowery Branch, during a singles match during the Class 5A third-round playoff match between Flowery Branch and Union Grove. - photo by David Barnes

Ginger Jackson didn’t hold back when she said her Flowery Branch High girls tennis program planned to celebrate this one Tuesday.

It was a long time coming, after all. 

The Lady Falcons clinched a first-ever state semifinal berth with a 3-0, Class 5A quarterfinal defeat of fellow No. 1 seed Union Grove on the sun-soaked courts at Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch. 

With the win, the top-seeded Lady Falcons move on to face Region 7 No. 1 seed Kell — which blanked Starr’s Mill, 4-0, on Tuesday — at a time and date to be determined.

“We’ve been chasing this a long time,” said Jackson, in her 10th season at Flowery Branch. “I’m human, I’ve been wound up pretty tight today. But I will tell you this, we’re gonna celebrate today. ... It’s a great day to be a Lady Falcon.”

Three times was the charm for a Flowery Branch program that fell short in its previous two trips to the quarterfinals. With a starting seven that included two seniors, one junior, a sophomore and three freshmen, the Lady Falcons seemed locked in, sealing the victory in an hour and 15 minutes despite a sluggish start.

“It feels really great, honestly,” said senior Brenna Martin, who beside freshman Alyssa McSpadden clinched the match with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Union Grove’s Keila Noel/Junine Ulysse at No. 1 doubles.

“Even at the beginning of the season I could sense we were getting stronger. From the start, I wasn’t sure how this team would be. And looking at it now it’s better than ever. ... The freshmen have been sort of a keystone for us too, really.” 

Jackson agreed.

“Having three strong players, no matter the age, it’s a gift,” the coach said. “You don’t always get that. ... That was a gift this year. I anticipated being this strong. But it all has to come together, and so far it has.”

Jackson noted Martin and four-year starter Olivia Correa gathered the team for a pre-match briefing and established what was at stake. Like many times before, the youth of Flowery Branch answered the call. 

Sophomore Olivia Nance gave the Lady Falcons the first point of the afternoon, swiftly defeating Union Grove’s Cara Coursey 6-1, 6-0 on the far court.

On the other opposite end of the facility, twin sisters Kendalle and Alicia Quast, Flowery Branch’s freshmen pair at No. 2 doubles, cruised to a straight set (6-0, 6-0) win over Claudia Hodges and alternate Amy Prickett, who came on after Morgan Morris suffered a knee injury during pre-match warm ups. 

Up 2-0 over the visiting Lady Wolverines, it only seemed fitting that Jackson’s senior pair — Martin and Correa in No. 2 singles — playing on opposite ends of a fence dividing four of the six courts in the complex were in a race to see who would capture the deciding point. 

Martin and McSpadden were the ones to turn the corner first while up a set and 4-2. McSpadden scorched a forehand winner down the alley along the ad side, and Martin followed with an overhead winner that split their opponents for the 5-2 lead. Correa, already up a set (6-1), took a 5-3 lead in the second to turn the corner as well.

But three points later, Union Grove double faulted on triple-match point, and the overjoyed senior/freshman pair shared a tight embrace before receiving confirmation from a teammate that Flowery Branch had just made program history. 

“I am just super thankful to be partnered with Brenna,” McSpadden said. “She’s been super welcoming as a teammate and as a senior, and I have had so much fun this season already.”

Interrupted Martin with a laugh: “We’re not done yet.”

McSpadden nodded and smiled in agreement.

Focus now shifts to a perennial tennis power in Kell, which awaits Flowery Branch in the next round. The Marietta-based Lady Longhorns have reached the semifinal stage in each of the last three seasons, finishing as state runners-up in 2016.

“They are a strong program, and they always had been a strong program,” Jackson said. “We’re gonna have to play very well.”