Before the season began, Gainesville High tennis coach James Barrett Lingenfelter stressed to his players the importance of having fun on the court.
"If you’re not having a good time you’re hurting your kids," Lingenfelter said. "We knew how to have a good time, but we also knew how to get the job done."
Indeed they did. In his third year with the Red Elephants and second as the boys’ head coach, Lingenfelter led Gainesville (16-3) to a Region 7-AAA title, an unbeaten record in region play and a No. 6 ranking in Class AAA at the end of the season.
Under Lingenfelter, the Red Elephants enjoyed a 14-match winning streak that lasted through the region tournament and into the state playoffs, until a second-round loss to Dunwoody.
Lingenfelter attributes his step-by-step approach to the season as a benchmark for Gainesville’s success. As his team continued to reel off wins, the goals and expectations increased with confidence.
"I’m a firm believer in taking things one step at a time," Lingenfelter said.
"Going into the season, our number one goal was to be successful, then bring the region title back to Gainesville."
Lingenfelter began that quest by assembling one of the area’s most dominant doubles tandems. The No. 1 team of Louis Hokayem and Corey McDonald and the No. 2 team of Robbie Bilbrough and Drew Denning, all seniors, were unbeaten throughout regular-season play.
Lingenfelter credits those seniors with bringing dedication, excitement and even a sense of humor to the team. During the Region 7-AAA tournament, the seniors requested that they show up wearing vibrant Hawaiian shirts, all for the purpose of getting a few laughs out of their teammates during an intense tournament that came down to one match.
"We’re going to miss those seniors," Lingenfelter said. "I’m proud of what they have done and giving it their all out there."
Despite losing his entire doubles lineup, Lingenfelter is confident he’ll have a new group of young players ready to repeat for another region title next year. His No. 1 and No. 2 singles players return next year, and with upcoming freshman and sophomores in the program, he has plenty of places to start piecing together next year’s team.
"I was extremely proud of how we had a huge freshman group," he said. "We’ll be alright. We’ve got guys waiting to step up."