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Gainesville girls enter tennis postseason with perfect mark
Gainesville's Katherine Wright returns a shot against Flowery Branch during the Region 8-AAAAA tennis championship match on Wednesday in Flowery Branch. - photo by For The Times

Gainesville girls tennis coach Kellie Smith knew the talent was there this season with just one major contributor from the previous season gone. Her main job was making all the pieces fit with a blend of experienced varsity standouts and promising freshmen.

After switching a couple players around and receiving excellent plays from both singles and doubles pairings, the Lady Red Elephants rolled through the regular season with a 20-0 record, including a 3-2 win against Flowery Branch in the Region 8-AAAAA title match Thursday in Flowery Branch.

With the win, Gainesville opens the state tournament at home next week against North Paulding at Longwood Park. Time and date are still to be determined.

“We have girls that are all capable on this team and have played extremely well,” Smith said.

As the third-year head coach of the Lady Red Elephants and fifth season working with the program, it’s the first time for Smith that Gainesville will enter the postseason unbeaten.

“It’s really exciting to enter the playoffs with the region championship,” Gainesville freshman Katherine Wright said. “The key to our team is that all of our lines have been strong.

“And we have girls at No. 1 and No. 2 singles that are tournament players.”

One of the biggest changes this season for the Lady Red Elephants was combining juniors Morgan Mercer and Lauren Carter into the No. 1 doubles pair. Smith noticed the two could communicate and feed well off of each other.

The Lady Red Elephants’ coach also noticed they had complementary strengths since Mercer has a strong forehand shot and was quick at the net, while Carter excels with her backhand shot.

Not only did the pairing of Mercer and Carter make it through the season unscathed so far, but also rallied from a 1-5 deficit in the first set of the championship match for a 7-6 (9-7), 6-3 victory against the Lady Falcons.

At points during the season, each of Gainesville’s players had experienced a chance to step up and become a deciding factor.

When play was suspended due to weather Wednesday, Gainesville was leading 2-1 over Flowery Branch. The only two players left of the court were Georgia Summer at No. 2 singles and Wright at No. 3 when play resumed Thursday.

After Summer lost her match, it was on Wright’s shoulders to salvage the match and the region championship.

“That was very nerve-racking,” Wright said. “I’d lost to her in three sets both times we played earlier in the season.”

Wright managed to win this time, however, on a long final point for a 7-5 decision during the final set in her favor.
Wright said the key to the region championship was a strong team bond.

“We all have really good relationships on this team,” Wright said. “The region championship was just a great team victory.”

Smith said that winning the Wildcat Invitational earlier in the season with victories against Flowery Branch, South Forsyth and Duluth showed the coach that her program was headed in the right direction.

At No. 1 singles, Brinkley Frankum has played well all season, along with the No. 2 doubles pair of Martha McKinnon/Katherine Anderson.

Also entering state as No. 1 seeds locally are the Flowery Branch boys from Region 8-AAAAA and the Riverside Military boys in 8-AA. The Buford boys and girls both claimed Region 7-AAA titles this week.