Before this season began, Flowery Branch girls tennis coach Ginger Jackson felt unusually confident in her lineup.
She said most years feature periodic shuffling of her lines and even the doubles teams themselves until region play starts, but they’ve stayed steady throughout the season. And during Tuesday’s Class AAAAA playoff opener, the Lady Falcons once again proved their coach’s preseason predictions were on-point.
Flowery Branch dominated on every court in its 4-0 sweep of Grady High to advance to the second round of the state tournament. The Lady Falcons (17-3) didn’t drop a single set and finished the match in about 50 minutes as threatening clouds rolled toward Flowery Branch High.
“We played really well today and didn’t really let (Grady) play with us,” Jackson said. “We put balls away and did some things I wanted to see that we hadn’t been doing as well lately. I was really impressed across all five lines.”
With the win, Flowery Branch will host Wayne County — the No. 2 seed out of Region 2-AAAAA — at 1 p.m. next Monday with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.
After Annabelle Thomas’ straight-set win in No. 1 singles, freshman Olivia Nance in No. 3 singles and Marissa Barrett/Brenna Martin in No. 2 doubles clinched the match with simultaneous victories. Jackson let Olivia Correa finish in No. 2 singles because she was just one game away from the win, while the No. 1 doubles team of Kylie McGuire/Peyton Brick halted play early.
It was another resounding win for the Lady Falcons, who topped Buford last Wednesday for the Region 8-AAAAA championship and a No. 1 playoff seed.
This was one far less dramatic, though — Flowery Branch had to rally from one-set deficits in three lines last week to claim the region title with a 3-1 win. But the comeback gave Jackson’s squad loads of momentum and confidence heading into the playoffs.
“I feel like we’ve peaked at a good time,” the coach said. “I’ve been really happy with the girls lately. We’re honestly balanced between our singles and doubles lines. We don’t really have any one weakness.”
That was apparent Tuesday, starting with Thomas’ dominant win against Lena Rosen.
The Lady Falcons’ sophomore didn’t lose a game in cruising to a 6-0, 6-0 win, which she clinched using a backhand close to the net that Rosen couldn’t keep in bounds. Thomas consistently forced her opponent to play the entire baseline with well-placed shots.
“I usually try to move people around and be patient for the short ball,” Thomas said. “They’ll either miss it, or you’ll be able to take advantage of them being out of position.”
Correa, meanwhile, was ahead 5-1 in the second set when Flowery Branch secured the victory. But the junior quickly won the next game to claim her line, during which she came up short in just three games as part of a 6-2, 6-1 win.
Shortly before that, Nance topped Bea Brown (6-0, 6-2) in a No. 3 singles victory that helped the Lady Falcons conclude the match early. Barrett/Martin also coasted to a 6-2, 6-3 win against Brooke Willis/Audrey Dwyer.
Seniors McGuire/Brick in No. 1 doubles held a 6-1, 4-3 lead against Kaitlyn Carroll/Emily Brown when the match ended.
Now the Lady Falcons will try to return to the quarterfinals, which is the furthest stage the program has ever reached in the state playoffs. Flowery Branch fell 3-1 at Starr’s Mill in the second round of last year’s tournament, but the squad will enjoy home court advantage this time around.
That, and the consistency Jackson anticipated months ago.
“We’ve been pretty much the same in all five lines all season, and our doubles teams get along well,” Thomas said. “We haven’t had any changes this year, which has helped us out a lot.”