(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Elizabethton sophomore Danielle Vines put together the most dominant performance at the District 1-A/AA individual tennis championships anyone could remember on Friday at the Milligan College tennis courts.
Vines, the nation’s 41st- ranked sophomore according to the Babolat tennis recruiting lists, didn’t lose a game the entire tournament. Makenna Smith of Sullivan North won a couple of points in one game in the final, but that was as close as she came all tournament to losing a game.
Mallory Jackson and Emily Lynch of Unicoi County who won the girls’ doubles title. On the boys’ side, David Worley of South Greene won singles, while Sullivan East seniors Boone Wallace and T.J. Hicks took the doubles crown.
Vines’ string of 6-0, 6-0 victories included a win over Morgan Murray of Sullivan East in the semfinals. Still, Vines had a case of the jitters coming into the final day of her first high school tournament.
“I was actually really nervous,” she said. “It’s been a great experience. I love the team atmosphere and being able to hang out with my teammates. I love team sports and I love tennis, so being able to play tennis and be on a team is really cool.”
Vines’ serve was overpowering as was her return game, which she had to adjust playing against the local high school competition, which doesn’t hit the ball nearly as hard as the Blue Chip players she has been used to playing against.
“I have to be careful to use a little more of my own pace instead of using their pace,” Vines said. “It’s really good to slice a lot of their serves so I can focus on my ground strokes after their return. It’s different, just an adjustment I have to make.”
The Unicoi County duo of Jackson and Lynch didn’t have to make many adjustments, taking the girls’ doubles title, 6-1, 6-3 over the Sullivan South sister duo of Caitlin and Brianna Barrett.
For Jackson, it was her fourth district title, which has all come different ways. She teamed with Seline Koch as a freshman, won the singles title and advanced to the state final as a sophomore, and teamed with Nela Holkova, with whom she won a state title as a junior. Jackson talked about teaming with Lynch, her newest partner.
“Emily and I work really well together,” Jackson said. “When she’s at the baseline and I’m at the net, she keeps the ball in really well. I can get anything on the net as long as I can jump. We just have a good time out there.”
Lynch is no stranger to big moments. As a No. 4 singles player last season, she won the clinching match in the regional team championship against Cumberland Gap. Still, the latest accomplishment was something she didn’t take lightly.
“It’s a big honor to have the title of district champion,” Lynch said. “I’m really proud of us for getting it. We worked hard for it.”
Worley won a first-set 7-6 with the tiebreaker 7-4 over Conly Shults of Unicoi County. He was aggressive at the net to win 6-1 in the second set. His win came after Shults won in three sets over Worley’s South Greene teammate Elijah Worrells.
“He is such a good tennis player,” Worley said about Shults. “I’m proud I could beat him. I just kept bringing him up to the net and tried to keep lobbing it over his head.”
Wallace and Ellis lost a first-set tiebreaker 7-6 (7-5) to Elizabethton’s Logan Birchfield and Caleb Bailey. They didn’t get discouraged, winning 6-2 in both the second and third sets. Wallace was able to keep the ball in play, leading to the taller Ellis dominating at the net.
Wallace knew it would be a close match like every time they’ve been matched up against the Cyclone pair.
“I have nothing, but good words for Logan and Caleb,” Wallace said. “They’re always great and it’s always a close match.”
For Ellis, an extra reason to celebrate. He also turned 18 on Friday.
“It was a good match today, a good birthday present,” Ellis said.
It’s a present that keeps giving. Wallace, Ellis and the rest of the finalists advanced to the Region 1-A/AA tournament to be held May 12 at the Greeneville Tennis Center.