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High school tennis playoffs: Flowery Branch teams sweep Rome in home first-round match
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Nathan Holley of Flowery Branch hits the ball during a singles match in the state playoffs against Rome High School in Flowery Branch, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Flowery Branch High tennis coach Stacey Smallwood saw some expectations not met in last season’s state tournament with a first-round departure. Her No. 2 seeded Falcons made sure they didn’t relive those same circumstances Tuesday in Flowery Branch.

It took less than an hour for the Falcons to coast into the second round of the Class 5A tournament, sweeping three of five lines while only dropping two games against No. 3 Rome at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex.

With the win, the Falcons move on to face either Arabia Mountain or No. 1 seed Grady in a second round match, at a time and date to be determined.

“Last year, I expected to advance,” Smallwood said. “But this year, I think our singles play is very strong, and I feel like we are much deeper.”

It certainly showed. The Falcons took two of three singles lines to follow the lead of Gunnar Hetzel and Caden Caldwell at No. 2 doubles. Caldwell, in for a sick Brady McVey, facilitated the role nicely beside Hetzel to down Rome’s Mark Spates and JC Camp 6-1, 6-0 for Flowery Branch’s first point of the afternoon.

“The doubles seem to be playing well too,” Smallwood said. “It’s been hit or miss this season with doubles play. ...The thing is, (Caldwell) is as strong as any of the others in that line. He does very well.”

Nathan Holley at No. 2 singles, who has yet to drop a set in his senior season, dominated from the baseline and at the net to answer with a straight-set (6-0, 6-0) win. Minutes later, Jack Thomas at No. 3 singles only needed two sets (6-1, 6-0) to clinch the first-round match for Flowery Branch on the far court behind Drayton Matus at No. 1 singles, who was up a set and a break at the time. 

Smallwood witnessed first-hand a more driven flock of seven, eager to bounce back after a region championship loss to Buford last week. 

“I think that’s been good for them to come off a region loss,” said the third-year Falcons coach. “Some of them maybe didn’t play as strong as they thought they did in region. I think they’ve come back and played really well.”

The Falcons’ commanding performance capped a stress-free afternoon for both Flowery Branch programs. The top-seeded Lady Falcons got things started with a breezy 4-0 first-round sweep of No. 4 seed Rome spanning 40 minutes in the windy, but sunlit court conditions.

LADY FALCONS SOAR TO FIRST-ROUND WIN: There were only a few minutes of separation between the three lines that clinched for the reigning Region 8-5A champions. 

No. 2 singles unbeaten and senior Olivia Correa (6-0, 6-0) was the first to explode out the gates, taking just 20 minutes to capture the opening set before providing that first point for Flowery Branch. Olivia Nance immediately matched her teammate, prevailing in straight-set fashion (6-0, 6-0).

Then, it was a side-by-side sprint to the finish for the two doubles teams of Flowery Branch. Senior Brenna Martin and freshman Alyssa McSpadden clinched the first-round win with a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Rome’s Ripley Bennett and Jordan Smith. It came minutes before the freshmen No. 2 tandem of twin sisters Alicia/Kendalle Quast were putting the finishing touches on their match (6-0, 6-0) on an adjacent court.

It was another goal crossed of the list for Flowery Branch, which moves a step closer to matching a program-best state quarterfinal appearance from last season.

“We talked about goals (Tuesday) — getting the one-seed in the region, winning the region and then winning in the first round. We talk about these things, step-by-step and you don’t want to look too far ahead,” Lady Falcons coach Ginger Jackson said.

While Jackson indicated she didn’t know much about their second-round opponent, the long-tenured coach stressed the importance to keep things rolling. 

“I don’t want them to relax. I want us roll and move on, and be the best we can be everyday,” she said.  

With the win, the Lady Falcons will face either No. 2 North Springs or No. 3 Southwest Dekalb in the second round, date and time pending.

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