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Tennis teams making strides at Bryan County

There’s a first time for everything. Unless it’s really the second time.


Bryan County’s rapidly improving girls tennis team, three years in the making, will host a first round match when the GHSA Class A-DI state tournament gets underway next week. No one can ascertain whether or not this is a first or there might have been a time in the distant past when the Redskins were a host team.


While coach Laura Blair would like to know, she’s not losing any sleep over it. The 10th-year coach is just excited and happy to be able to host a team. The Redskins, who have advanced to the ‘Sweet 16’ the last two years, earned the right to play their first-round match at home by finishing second to Screven County in the Region 3 tournament.


“If we’ve ever hosted a state playoff match, we can’t find any record of it,” Blair said. “The parents of some of our players played tennis here and they can’t recall ever playing a state tournament match at home.


“If it has happened it’s been more than 20 years ago. If there’s anyone out there that has any knowledge about it, they can let us know.”


While the Redskins girls' team will open against the No. 3 seed from Region 2, the boys' will be going on the road as a No. 3 seed and will take on the No. 2 Region 2 team in Region 2. That region held its tournament on Tuesday. Region 2 teams are Bleckley County, Dublin, East Laurens, Jefferson County, and Swainsboro.


Once opponents are determined, dates and times will be set by coaches at the two schools. The GHSA stipulates first round matches must be completed by April 18.


The girls contending for a region championship was no surprise given their having won first round playoff matches the last two years.


What’s impressive about them is that of their top seven players, the only seniors are Clara Howard, who plays No. 2 singles, and Sarah Conner who teams with junior Kayla Kilmer to form the No. 2 doubles team.


Junior Shae Coursey, who is also a standout on the girls soccer team, plays No. 1 singles with junior Emma Strickland playing No. 3 singles.


The first doubles team is made up of juniors Caycelyn Davis and Jada Conley and they owned an 8-1 record going into a Tuesday match at Calvary Day. The Redskins will also face off against Islands at 4 p.m. Thursday at Savannah’s Bacon Park courts.


The boys' team is extremely young with sophomore Drew Long at No. 1 singles followed by freshmen Cameron Kilmer and Gavin Long. Senior Josh Leach and junior XiYon James from the No. 1 doubles team while freshmen Ray Metz and Andy Ryle play at No. 2.


“We’ve got 22 players, 14 girls and eight boys in the program,” said Blair, who is assisted by Cindy Bennett and Mario Mincey. “Kids in North Bryan don’t come with a lot of knowledge about the game.


“Kids up here put a lot of time and effort into football, basketball and softball,” Blair said. “Tennis is not their primary sport. We get freshmen who have never played so there’s a lot of teaching involved.”


“It’s a lot like T-ball in that they have to learn to hit the ball.”


However, Blair said she has kids who are willing to work and put forth an effort along with a group of parents who are highly supportive. Improvement has come rapidly for several despite limited off-season opportunities.


“We don’t have tennis in the rec program,” Blair said. “Tennis is a sport where you get better in the off season. If our kids want to play in a summer program they have to go to Bulloch or Effingham or Chatham County.

“That’s where our parents come in,” Blair said. “We have an amazing group of parents and they’re starting to put in the time and get lessons for their kids. They’re creating a tennis environment for their kids.”

Coursey (2-8) and Howard (4-6) have struggled the most from a won-loss standpoint in that they have to play opponents’ top players, most of whom are more experienced.  


Depth, however, is perhaps the Redskins’ biggest asset with Strickland (7-4) and the doubles teams more than holding their own. Conner and Kilmer are 6-4.


“This sport is a lot of individual play but it’s still a team sport,” Blair said. “There are days the lower part of our lineup has been our saving grace.”


The boys' team, because of its youth, has been a work in progress but Blair thinks she has some players with potential, especially Long who has improved vastly over the course of the season.


“Drew has potential and he’s fun to watch,” Blair said. “If he keeps improving, he’s going to be tremendous his last two years. Cameron Kilmer and his sister (Kayla) are also improving.


“This is the first time we’ve had a full boys' team in five years and we have boys who want to compete,” Blair said. “This year we put up Sweet 16 banners with the girls' names on them and the boys look at it and they want one, too.”

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