JONESBORO — The Buford girls tennis team was unable to cap off their historic season with a championship. The Lady Wolves ended up losing out to Woodward Academy 3-0 on a hot Saturday afternoon in the GHSA class AAAA state championship at the Clayton International Park Tennis Center.
It was the Lady Wolves first ever appearance in the championship match in the program’s 38 years.
“This is our first time ever even making it to the final four,” Buford coach Roger West said. “It was amazing. We had a great season.”
To even make it that far, Buford first had to fend off two match points against Marist, the two-time defending class AAAA state champions, in the quarterfinals.
“We had some very, very close matches,” said West, the Region 8-AAAA Coach of the Year. “We were fortunate to be here. We were thrilled to be here, and we think it’s maybe raised the bar for tennis in Buford now. We’re excited about the seasons to come.”
The match itself wasn’t much of a contest. Woodward won all three of their games in straight sets.
“Woodward has just got a great tennis program,” West said. “They’ve always been a powerhouse. They were strong all the way down, and we just had some things not go our way. They played great, and we congratulate them.”
The No. 2 singles match between Buford sophomore Bailey McCammon and Woodward Academy junior Emily Cease was the first match to be decided, with Cease winning 2-0 (6-2, 6-1).
The No.1 singles match looked to be going Buford’s way with junior Annalea Stevens, the Region 8-AAAA Player of the Year, holding a 5-4 and then a 6-5 lead over Woodward sophomore Cheyenne Early in the first set. Early was able to battle back, however, and take the set 7-6.
“I just stayed consistent,” Stevens said. “When there was a time for me to put it away, I tried to. (Early) was a good player. She was consistent too.”
After losing the first match, the heat seemed to take a toll on Stevens as she was unable to muster much in the second set, losing the match 2-0 (7-6, 6-1).
“I got tired a lot quicker then I thought I would be,” Stevens said.
After losing the first two single matches, Buford needed to sweep the two double matches and win the No. 3 singles match. Another loss would crown Woodward as the champions.
Woodward quickly took any potential drama out of the equation by rallying in the second set of the No. 1 doubles match that pitted Buford senior Abbey Mitchell and junior Savannah Whaley against Woodward Academy junior Kaylie Lobel and sophomore Tyler Valastro. Lobel and Valastro won the match 2-0 (6-4, 6-3) and clinched the title for the War Eagles.
The No. 2 doubles match had Woodward Academy senior Kaelyn Lowe and freshman Caroline Yarbrough up 1-0 (6-2, 4-5) against Buford juniors Katie Quinn and Peyton Wolfe, but it was ended once Lobel and Valastro won and the celebration for Woodward began.
No tears were shed by Buford in defeat, however, as they had already accomplished so much on the season. The Lady Wolves (20-3 this season) walked off the court with their heads held high.
“I’m really proud of (my team),” Stevens said. “This is the farthest we’ve gotten, so I have no complaints.”
“I told them that we had broken so many things,” West said. “Region winner for the third straight year, Final Four for the first time ever and finals for the first time ever. So we have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re proud, and we’re hoping to continue with this now and just build on it every year.”