When the tennis season began, Flowery Branch coach Ginger Jackson felt like it could be a magical year.
By the end of it, she felt the same way.
In her fourth season as the head tennis coach at Flowery Branch, her team compiled a 22-2 record and advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
When they were finally ousted from the playoffs, it was by the eventual state champion Johns Creek.
“It was so special,”
Jackson said of the team’s season. “My goal is always to win anything we start doing. And when you start winning, it’s just special.”
For her role in the team’s success, Jackson has been named the Times 2012 Tennis Coach of the Year.
Jackson has been at Flowery Branch for nine years and has coached the tennis team for four. Her goal from the beginning was to start a winning program that would increase the interest in the sport.
Over the years, the team has become more and more successful, culminating with the quarterfinals trip this season.
But Jackson wouldn’t exactly call the success a surprise.
“It was expected, in my mind, for us to go to state,” she said. “I just didn’t know how far we would go when we got there. When you go to state, it takes some skill, but it takes a little luck too.”
And a lot of hard work.
Jackson said the success of her team began during the offseason. She had encouraged her players to “hang on to their rackets” during the summer.
In other words: Keep playing.
“I encourage them to keep working over the summer and fall, and they really take that to heart,” Jackson said.
“Right now, I know they’re playing tournaments. They’ve never stopped. They leave it all out there. You get the fever and the parents get the fever. We only know how to coach and play one way, and that’s full steam ahead.”
Bekki Benton, a member of the No. 1 doubles duo with Durden Smith, backed up those statements.
“One thing she’s always encouraged us to do that made us the team we were this year is to pursue lessons outside of the season,” she said. “There’s too short of a time to really go into too much detail during the season, so we have to be ready before we get started.”
As far as what they do accomplish during the season, Jackson said the team is big on endurance and being in shape.
“Our deal is that we may not have the skills someone else has, but we’re going to be in the best shape,” she said. “That’s how you win. You have to have stamina.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for the team’s success, however, is not what takes place on the court.
It’s in the closeness of the individuals.
Benton said the team is like a family, a statement echoed by Jackson when describing her athletes.
“I have 11 daughters,” she said. “I always tell the parents that. I tell them that I don’t know how I was so blessed to get such a good group. And I don’t just mean tennis.”
And neither do the girls.
“We call her Mama, and we’re her little baby ducks,” Benton said. “It’s not so much her coaching us, it’s all of us working together as a unit. There’s so many lessons she’s taught us. Not just about tennis, but about life, perseverance and determination. All the different aspects of competition. She really pulls that together.”
Benton said that was a rare quality in a coach.
“It’s unique,” she said. “In a lot of ways, she’s definitely respected as the coach, but we’re also able to communicate with her openly. When there’s a problem, we have her to talk it out with.”
And Jackson is quick to share the success. She swears that it isn’t her that’s making the team what it is.
“I’m only as good as the people I surround myself with,” she said. “And I’ve surrounded myself with great people. That’s probably the best thing I’ve done as a coach.”And she hopes that trend continues.
“I hope they’re all pushing each other,” she said.
“When they start setting their goals high, they’ll start pushing each other. That’s really going to help.”