Though the Flowery Branch girls tennis team’s third trip to the state quarterfinals ended just like the others — with a loss — coach Ginger Jackson felt differently about this one.
“I thought we had an opportunity today, whereas when we went to the quarterfinals in the past we really didn’t have much of a chance,” Jackson said. “We can’t really be disappointed about making it this far.”
Indeed, the Lady Falcons were in the midst of a potential comeback when No. 2 seed Carrollton clinched its 3-0 sweep in the Class 5A quarterfinals Wednesday at the Flowery Branch High tennis courts.
It matched Flowery Branch’s deepest playoff run and ended a season that included a Region 8-5A championship and dominant wins in the first two rounds of the state tournament. The top-seeded Lady Falcons (18-4) were in the third set in No. 2 singles and two games away from a victory in No. 2 doubles when Carrollton’s No. 1 doubles team picked up the deciding point.
“We got beat by a team that was better than us, but we did play well at times,” Jackson said. “We knew they were a solid team. It just wasn’t our day. It’s a shame, but in a game between two good teams like this, someone has to lose.”
Considering how the match started, Flowery Branch has plenty to be proud of.
All three singles lines dropped their first set, though freshman Olivia Nance in No. 3 singles was never down more than one game the whole way. Down 6-5 and at deuce, Nance won the next two points to force a tiebreaker she ultimately lost 7-6.
She fell to Ellie Hesterlee 6-1 in the next set, while No. 1 singles player Annabelle Thomas lost in straight sets (6-3, 6-1) to Sonya Ivaschenko.
The Lady Falcons were in a dire situation when Olivia Correa was defeated 6-3 in her opening set against Alli Hodges. But while her singles teammates fell short on either side of her, Correa battled to a 6-2 victory in the second set to keep Flowery Branch’s hopes alive.
“I started moving my feet more in that second set, which is what coach (Jackson) told me to do,” the junior said. “I also kept it away from her backhand, and rather than going straight for the point, I focused on keeping it in play.”
The No. 2 doubles team of Marissa Barrett/Brenna Martin appeared to be on the verge a much-needed point for the Lady Falcons. After taking the first set 6-4, it was ahead of Lizzie Hunt/Tyra Zachery 4-3 in the second set when the match was decided.
Carrollton grabbed the winning point in No. 1 doubles, with Katy Nixon/Audrey Best beating Kylie McGuire/Peyton Brick in straight sets (6-4, 6-3) that were tight for most of the way.
Trailing 5-4 in the first set with the Trojans at game point, McGuire had to charge a shot that rolled lazily off the net and into play. Her lunging attempt just missed the slowly hopping ball, giving Carrollton the opening-set victory.
McGuire and Brick held a 3-2 lead in the second set before conceding the next four games to end the match. Correa had just started her third set against Hodges when the match was called.
Despite the loss, Jackson is optimistic about the future of her program. All three singles players will return next season, and the team loses only four seniors, three of whom were in the quarterfinals lineup.
“We’re going to reload next year, and we have some really good young players coming up,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we’ll have the same opportunity next year.”
Carrollton will face the winner of Riverwood and Starr’s Mill in the semifinals.