Gainesville’s newest face on the block may give the Red Elephants their best shot at a region title in three years.
Jeffery Kiser, a transfer from North Hall High, will lead Gainesville (14-1, 9-0 Region 8-AAAAA) as the team’s No. 1 singles player into this week’s region tournament at Flowery Branch High in the hopes of preventing a Falcon three-peat. He began his junior year at the No. 2 spot behind Graham McKinnon, but earned the top spot after beating his teammate in a “challenge” at a practice earlier this year.
“Graham keeps a high level, but I saw Jeffery get better every day,” said head coach C.J. Weaver. “He challenged (McKinnon) and won in a third-set tiebreaker. It was super close, so I’ve kept it that way.”
McKinnon, who has proved a stalwart at the No. 2 spot, will pair with Kiser (13-2) and an undefeated pair of doubles teams to give Flowery Branch a run for its money in the Falcons’ hunt for a third straight region championship.
Weaver said he feels confident that his doubles teams of Reagan Williams/Edward Belch and Trevor Munn/Roan Thompson can continue a hot streak this year. Neither team has lost a match this season.
The boys bracket will begin on Tuesday morning at the Davis Middle School courts, with the title match at 3 p.m. on Wednesday at Flowery Branch High School.
On the girls’ side, Gainesville is defending its back-to-back region titles against perennial opponent Flowery Branch. The competition has been fierce this year, with Gainesville, Flowery Branch and newcomer Lanier needing a tiebreaker to sort out the region seeds.
All three teams have beaten each other, but the Lady Falcons earned the No. 1 seed thanks to a 4-1 win over the Lady Red Elephants in the regular season.
Flowery Branch coach Ginger Jackson said she’ll be looking to senior No. 1 Nicole Morris to have a strong tournament, while freshman Olivia Correa has impressed at the No. 2 spot. Jackson’s team of Brooke Kane and Breanna Benton at No. 1 doubles will also lead the Lady Falcons throughout the tournament.
“Nicole, she’s been with me for five years, and No. 1 for three years,” Jackson said. “She plays with grit, determination, and when she plays well, she’s hard to beat.”
Weaver, who also coaches the girls team this year for Gainesville (12-3), said the competition should be “up in the air.” He’ll rely on No. 1 singles player Katherine Wright, who has gained valuable experience in three-set matches against Flowery Branch, Lanier and Clarke Central.
The girls bracket will begin on Tuesday morning at Flowery Branch High School courts, with the title match at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at Flowery Branch.
Both North Hall tennis teams earned No. 2 seeds in the Region 8-AAAA tournament this Tuesday.
Girls coach Patricia Zaudtke boasts six seniors on a team that went 13-2 and suffered only one region loss to No. 1 seed Buford. Zaudtke said the recent rainy weather was “devastating” to work through, as it shortened the season into two or three short weeks.
“It’s been a hard season,” she said. “The weather wasn’t our friend.”
The tournament will begin on Tuesday morning at Madison County High School.
Natalie Oxley at No. 1 singles is “the top dog” for Zaudtke, while Berry College signee Kelsey McCray will hold down the fort at No. 2. Hannah Gibson and Kaitlyn Smith will be North Hall’s No. 1 doubles, while Zaudtke is working on determining who her second doubles team will be.
The boys will be led by No. 1 doubles team Paxton Gillespie/Matt Booth, who are undefeated in region play. The Trojans won their first region title in recent memory last year. It’s the first under head coach Bob Woodworth, who has coached the team for 13 years.
North Hall has a good shot to face No. 1 seed North Oconee in the tournament final. The Titans beat the Trojans 3-2 in the regular season, with three matches going to three sets. Woodworth’s team has beaten No. 3 seed Madison County 4-1, and No. 4 seed Buford 5-0.
Woodworth said his team has tried to develop a program with younger players to make sure he can build up talent for the future.
“The fact that I think we have an opportunity is really exciting to me,” he said. “It’ll be hard, because North Oconee is really good.”