Tennis can provide tense moments in the heat of competition. But Chestatee High’s Grace Brown and Haley King have a way of navigating those tougher points with humor and a keen understanding of their fellow doubles partner.
They paired to go 14-0 in doubles as juniors during the 2014 season and only lost one set all season, against eventual AAAA state champion Marist. That match wasn’t completed as Marist clinched the first-round playoff contest before the doubles matchup was complete.
The three-year starters were first-team All-Region 8-AAAA selections in leading Chestatee to its second straight playoff berth, the first back-to-back postseason trips in program history.
For their efforts, Brown and King are The Times’ Girls Tennis Players of the Year.
Brown and King said the key to their success together comes down to familiarity. They’ve both attended Lakewood Baptist Church since they were in pre-kindergarten, as well as playing volleyball and basketball together.
“We’ve grown up together,” Brown said.
Brown said that bond allows she and King to be able to calm each other down during matches. Their preferred method of diffusing the tension is constant talking and laughter.
“We’re both very vocal,” Brown said.
They’re both scholar-athletes who carry grade-point averages above 4.0. And while their record shows their dedication to playing the sport well, they make sure to enjoy it too.
“Instead of being super serious, we like to keep it really lighthearted,” King said.
War Eagle girls tennis coach Becky Whitton said the duo, which has played doubles together full-time for two seasons, is very open to her input.
“They’re both very coachable and they work very hard,” Whitton said. “They communicate very well, and that’s one thing I try to instill in my players. They believe in it.”
It wasn’t always a certainty Chestatee would make it back to the postseason. But King said the leadership of the War Eagles’ five seniors, particularly Lily Kiang, kept everyone motivated.
“The seniors, you could tell how bad they wanted it because they played so hard,” King said. “It made us want to play hard too. It was really exciting to know we fought through and made it to state.”
Whitton said Brown and King often would walk off the court after a win and ask what they did wrong and how they could improve.
“They’ve always wanted to get better,” Whitton said. “They’re competive.”
By season’s end, they tallied 14 victories compared with no losses.
“Once we were 5-0, it was a big motivator to keep our streak going,” King said.
Having a person who’s a good friend beside them on the court was crucial in more ways than one.
“I know I can go to Haley with anything I’m struggling with or happy about,” Brown said.
They both suggest one of their greatest assets is tuning out outside pressure.
“We both share a love of the game,” King said. “We’re not playing for anyone else. It’s for our love of the game.”
With the loss of five seniors, Chestatee might need Brown and King in different roles, not as doubles partners, next season. Either way, they’re looking forward to whatever they may be called upon to do. As Brown put it, “We’ll still be on the same team.”
Wherever Whitton uses the two in 2015, she’s glad to have them back.
“They’ll definitely be the leaders of the team without a doubt next year,” Whitton said.