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High school tennis: Youthful North Hall girls eager for chance to play for Class 4A state championship
North Hall faces Holy Innocents' in the Class 4A state semifinals May 4, 2023 in Gainesville. Photo by Bill Murphy

With one bit of history secured, North Hall’s girls tennis team is taking aim at another landmark this weekend.

The Lady Trojans (20-4) will make their first appearance in a state championship match, against Pace Academy at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College in Rome.

With Region 5-4A champion Pace Academy standing in its way, the Region 8-4A champions task won’t be an easy one.

The Lady Knights have seven state titles to their credit, including hoisting the trophy in all three of the last contested seasons (Class 3A in 2019, and Class 2A in 2021, 2022).

In the state semifinals, Pace Academy ousted two-time defending Class 3A champ Westminster in the second round.

But the way North Hall coach Bob Woodworth and his players see it, they have a few things going in their favor.

For one, few people outside of their program believe they have much of a chance, and Woodworth says that doubt could help his Lady Trojans come into Saturday’s match with a sense of having next to nothing to lose.

That is a big reason that Woodworth said his team is taking the same approach it took to last week’s semifinal win over Holy Innocents’ — one that they have used in pretty much every match this season.

“We’ll do what we always do at practice today,” Woodworth said Wednesday. “The only thing we’ll change is that I’ll change a couple of situational drills based on our opponent. But most of our practice is going to be like it always is.”

Something else that could work to North Hall’s advantage is that despite the disparage in championship history, the Lady Trojans won’t be intimidated when they step out on the court.

After all, they’ve already bested two other Atlanta private-school powerhouses during their road to the championship match, having beaten Lovett and Holy Innocents’ in tight 3-2 matches in the second round and semifinals, respectively.

In addition, with several North Hall players getting extensive work on the USTA-tournament circuit throughout the year, they have experience playing in some pressure-packed matches.

“I feel like … as long as we just play our best and give it all on the court, I think we’ll do well,” said North Hall No. 1 singles player Ella Kate Canaday, who was recently honored as Hall County’s top girls tennis player during the Times’ Athlete of the Year banquet Tuesday at the Gainesville Civic Center. “I think (USTA play) prepares me really well because the (players) at these private schools, they’re people I play at tournaments. So I think it will help a lot.”

Woodworth agrees with Canaday’s assessment, and is convinced that ability to meet the pressure of playing high-quality opponents is a big reason the Lady Trojans are on the cusp of program history.

It’s a development even he admits he didn’t necessarily see coming.

“I will tell you, the kids continue to surprise me,” Woodworth said. “They played great taking down (Lovett and Holy Innocents’). But what’s nice is they keep on stepping up and keep on adjusting to what’s needed. It’s going to be really hard Saturday, but we’ll do what we can.”

Indeed, what North Hall may have going for it against Pace Academy is its depth.

The Lady Trojans have gotten plenty of good work throughout their lineup this season, from Region 8-4A Player of the Year Gabbie Jenkins at No. 2 singles and Lilly Perry at No. 3 singles to the doubles teams of Riley Morgan and Maggie Perry, and Callie Clark and Kate Rogers.

Regardless of how the state-title match pans out, however, Woodworth expects the Lady Trojans, who have a large number of underclassmen in their line-up, will benefit from playing in it.

“The good thing is, win or lose, this will be a good experience for our team,” Woodworth said. “We’re a young team, and I think they’ll all get better from this no matter what happens.”

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