Gainesville tennis coach Kellie Smith had a strong feeling Tuesday’s first-round playoff match between her No. 1 seed Lady Red Elephants and No. 4 seed Allatoona would come down to a tight finish.
In what was a 2 ½-hour-long affair, Gainesville scripted a dramatic comeback on its home courts of Longwood Park. It climbed out of a hole — first falling at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles — in order to have the outcome decided by the No. 1 singles match.
But the Red Elephants’ season ended with a 3-2 loss to the Northwest Cobb County-based Buccaneers.
With all eyes on Court 1, the Lady Red Elephants’ hopes of advancing to the second round of the Class AAAAAA tournament disbanded when four-year veteran and top singles player Haley Frankum fell short in a 5-7, 6-4, 4-6 loss to Allatoona’s Maddie Byrne. Gainesville’s 2017 campaign ends with an unbeaten mark in Region 8-AAAAAA, and its region championship won March 29 was the fifth under Smith in the last seven years.
“(Frankum) tried her hardest, and her opponent was really good,” Smith said. “Some shots went her way, went with the momentum, and (Byrne) ended up pulling it off.”
Frankum used an inspiring backcourt game to offset an erratic serve and battle back. A clean backhand volley winner granted Frankum the second set, 6-4. She was deadlocked in a marathon game while down 3-2 in the third when Gainesville knotted the score at 2-all.
Loud cheers ensued from the far end of the facility as Gainesville’s Alli Waggoner beat Lily McNeel in a three-set battle at No. 3 singles, evening the contest at two points apiece. Spectators then found their places on the hill adjacent to the final match on Court 1.
In the critical game that reached deuce 13 times, Frankum erased eight break-points to tie it at 3-all.
“I was definitely focused that game,” said Frankum. “My coaches kept telling me, ‘Don’t lay off the gas, full-throttle.’ Just staying positive and keeping my energy up really helped. I got the game, but she continued to fight and it was just a great match.”
Frankum’s serve faltered after evening the set at 4-all. Byrne won eight of nine points to cap the final set at 6-4.
Frankum, who said she was bound to a wheelchair after injuring her foot on the eve of her senior season, now ends her varsity career as a three-time region champion with the Red Elephants.
“Just how I could play this season was awesome for me,” Frankum said.
Frankum has no reason hang her head on another successful chapter, one in which her teammates and coaches played a big role. The senior applauded the play of her teammates for keeping things close in the match, like the No. 2 doubles tandem of Paige Patterson and Grace O’Keefe that defeated Allatoona’s Corrie Williams and Megan Feathers 6-2, 6-2 to put Gainesville on the board.
Waggoner’s emotions stayed level during her match to capture Gainesville’s second point.
Things heated up after Waggoner lost the opening set 6-2. A series of on-court disputed calls between opponents resulted in a line judge being summoned, and Waggoner eventually won the contested second set 7-5.
She powered through the decider to defeat Allatoona’s McNeel 6-1 and deadlock the first-round match.
“It just shows her competitive edge, and not wanting to give up and get the job done,” Smith said of Waggoner. “She knew she had to win for us to have a chance to win.”
Other winners for Allatoona include Kendall Moore at No. 2 singles with a straight-set (6-1, 6-3) win over Gainesville’s Grayson Wagner, followed by Megan McKay and Zuzu Nemeth with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Paige Ackerman and Madi Kiser.
With a youthful bunch moving up the ranks next season, Smith foresees a bright future for the program.
“They got better from Day 1 to the end, and this is the best they can compete with,” Smith said of the season. “Allatoona is a very good team, and they did very well.”
Allatoona, now in its eighth-consecutive state tournament, will play a second-round match with the winner of Jonesboro and Richmond Hill later this week at a date and time to be determined.