Vines, Unicoi duo make state finals

Jeff Birchfield • May 22, 2014 at 10:51 PM

MURFREESBORO — An overpowering serve around 90 mph, check.

A winning forehand, check.

A solid backhand, check.

An abilty to charge the net, sure, on the rare occasion it’s even needed.

Go down the list and it’s easy to see why Elizabethton sophomore Danielle Vines is the overwhelming favorite to win today’s Class A-AA girls’ singles championship at the TSSAA Spring Fling at Old Fort Park.

Vines, who made a name for herself in USTA competition, continued her domination of the high school tennis season Thursday with a pair of 6-0, 6-0 romps at the state tournament. Vines, who is the No. 40 -ranked sophomore on the Babolat national recruiting list, is yet to drop a game, let alone a set or a match the entire high school season.

Still, she doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I’ve just stayed really focused and not get ahead of myself,” Vines said. “I don’t look at it like, I have to win the next four games. I just take it one point at a time and try my hardest to win every point.”

Besides Vines, the Unicoi County doubles team of Mallory Jackson and Emily Lynch also made the finals.

Vines will face an opponent in the final, two-time state champion Skylar McDonald of Fayetteville, who has beaten her before. However, most of those losses were when the girls were younger. Vines has had her number in their most recent matches, winning 6-2, 6-1 the last time the two went head-to-head in a Southern Designated tournament in Knoxville.

On Thursday, Vines easily dispatched of Caroline White of Columbia Academy in a match that lasted around 30 minutes. It took roughly the same time for her to defeat Katie Delay of Boyd-Buchanan.

She talked about maintaining her focus when the matches have been so one-sided. The only time she has even been taken to deuce was the District 1-A/AA final in one game against Sullivan North’s McKenna Smith.

“It is really hard to stay focused because it is easy to look around and lose focus for a game,” Vines said. “I try to focus on my strings, my towel, whatever, so I don’t lose focus.”

Her coach, Kenny Hardin, believes that ability and her overall competitiveness would make a winner in any sport.

“She’s a tremendous athlete who never takes a point off,” Hardin said. “Not many athletes can say that. She has a tremendous work ethic and comes out there with a killer instinct. She takes care of business on the court.

“In any sport, you love to have that mentality. She could play any sport. I even think she could play football because she’s that determined. It shows when she gets on the court.”

Jackson and Lynch reached the final by beating the Columbia Academy sister duo of Abgail and Anna Grace Wolfe 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Jackson did most of her damage with her serves and on the baseline, while Lynch was solid with her play at the net.

The two used much the same strategy in the semifinals winning by the same score over Emily Wilt and Mattie Sue Naffe of Collegedale Academy.

It is the third straight year Jackson has reached the finals. The first time was as a singles player and then she won the doubles title with Nela Holkova last season.

She found her serve was actually better once she took a little off of it.

“I was expecting to go and blow them off the court with my serve,” Jackson said. “I was trying too hard to have an awesome serve and not just play the point out. Finally when I realized I needed to get a solid serve in, it started going in like I wanted it to and started working better.”

They only appeared in danger once. After being up 4-1 in the first set of the semifinals, the Collegedale doubles team broke serve and won another game to make it 4-3. However, Jackson and Lynch soon regained control and earned the state title berth.

“We went through a slump where we weren’t playing our best,” Lynch said. “We knew we had to come back and fight back harder. We knew what we needed to do and we succeeded. I’m so excited about playing for a state championship that I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s unreal.”

Another pair of locals, the Tennessee High boys’ doubles team of Matt Henson and Jacob Marshall will also play for a state title after they followed up the Vikings’ team championship by reaching the Class AAA finals.

For the others, their seasons ended in the quarterfinals.

Kenya Jones of White Station defeated Josie Rogers of Dobyns-Bennett in Class AAA girls’ singles and Steven Karl of Brentwood beat Charlie Moseley of Tennessee High in the Class AAA boys’ competition.

In Class A-AA, David Worley of South Greene lost in the boys’ singles quarterfinals and Griffin Leonard and Patrick Cawood of Greeneville fell in doubles.

For Vines, Jackson and Lynch, their championship matches are set for 10 a.m.

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