Despite not having the greatest amount of resources at its disposal, all five Scioto County girls tennis programs — Minford, Notre Dame, Portsmouth, Valley, and Wheelersburg — have all produced their fair share of great to exceptional girls tennis players.
And during the Division II Sectional Tennis Tournament that was held on the sites of Portsmouth High School and Shawnee State University, all five schools, once again, showed their wherewithal throughout the tournament last weekend as each school had at least two singles player and one doubles hand advance to the second round of play in a successful two-day event.
When the dust settled, the doubles duo of Wheelersburg’s Maddie Gill and Kaitlyn Sommer, along with Valley’s Billie Jean Jennice and Hannah Conley, qualified for district play in Athens, while Wheelersburg’s Lea Wright and Minford’s Kaylee McGinnis did likewise on the singles side of action en route to representing Scioto County in a strong fashion throughout the tournament.
For Jodi Wright, the efforts of Gill, Sommers and Wright to qualify were nothing less than tremendous, especially considering the unseasonably sunny and hot weather that was present throughout.
“It’s really great to have not only a singles player, but a doubles team at the district tournament,” Wright said. “To be able to send somebody in both is really good for such a small school, and a small area.”
As for Kaleigh McGinnis, Minford’s lone qualifier is simply proud to be able to represent her school, as well as the team that has been extremely supportive of her efforts throughout the year.
“It feels great,” McGinnis said. “It’s an honor to represent Minford. I feel like I’ve come a long way throughout the season behind lots of hard work and the continued support from my teammates and coaches. It’s really paid off.”
The efforts of McGinnis, Minford’s top hand in its tennis program and a junior who will be back next year, were certainly huge throughout the day. Despite the unusually hot weather that kept McGinnis, and others, up on their toes for two days, Minford’s No. 1 tennis player persevered and took home 6-1, 6-2 and 6-1, 6-0 victories to put herself in a position to qualify, and then recovered from a 5-7, 6-4, 4-6 loss to Logan Elm’s Kendra Risner en route to collecting a 6-4, 6-1 win over Wheelersburg’s Victoria Thomas to collect the final district slot.
“It was very tough,” McGinnis said of the tournament. “I was nervous for a little bit, because the competition was strong. However, I just pushed through it and kept hoping for the best.”
It also didn’t hurt that McGinnis, a regular fixture amongst the SOC’s best tennis players, practiced regularly with her teammates and Minford head coach Darren Shepherd in order to round out her game during the regular season.
“(Darren Shepherd) has always been there practicing with me whenever I need it, even on the weekends,” McGinnis said. “He’s been a great help throughout the season. “My teammates are also very supportive of me. They’re great players themselves, and they have really helped me out from not only a skill standpoint, but from a morale standpoint as well.”
As for Wright and the Wheelersburg tennis program, its work ethic was evident not just in the singles side of the tournament, but on the doubles side as well.
Gill and Sommer, who were ranked as the No. 3 overall seed in doubles play coming into the tournament, played beyond their years as the duo advanced all the way to the sectional championship match by winning 48 of the 54 sets available across its first four matches. And even though the stout Logan Elm senior duo of Shelby Ward and Abby Stroup ultimately defeated Gill and Sommer to claim the No. 1 seed heading into district play on Wednesday morning, it took the pair 34 sets — including a fierce 7-6 third-set showdown — to defeat the talented freshman and sophomore duo.
“I’m trying to make sure that Maddie and Kaitlyn understand how great it is to be where they are, and be proud of that before district play starts,” Wright said. “They should be proud of what they’ve done and how successful they are. Being able to play hard and compete against district competition is just a bonus. If you show up and put everything out there on the court, you can be happy and proud of that.”
As for Wright’s daughter, Lea, the junior hand won each of her first 24 sets on the afternoon, and then followed that up with a dominating performance against Alli Entler of Waverly, 6-1, 6-2, to clinch a top-four seed heading into Wednesday’s district tournament. While Wright fell to Washington Court House’s Megan Downing by a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 tally, the junior quickly recovered in the third-place match and collected a dominating 6-0, 6-0 win over Kendra Risner of Waverly to claim the No. 3 overall seed.
“It was exciting, but really tough to watch at the same time,” Wright said, describing the nervous tension of the match. “Maddie and Kaitlyn were in that tough doubles match for first place that lasted two and a half hours. While that was going on, Lea was in a match that also lasted two and a half hours. Those matches, however, really showed me that they can do even better at the district level. It makes me feel good. I always have high expectations for them and hope that they can get to the next level. It was an exciting day to have all of that happen at one time.”
In addition to the trio’s efforts, Thomas, the Lady Pirates’ lone senior, collected wins of 6-0, 6-4 and 6-4, 6-0 over district competition.
While Thomas was ultimately defeated by the eventual sectional champion, Sylvia Gray of Unioto, just one round shy of the final six, the depth and performance that was evident throughout the middle of the week’s affairs was plenty impressive to the Wheelersburg head coach — especially considering the lack of a true home site for all Scioto County players to compete at.
”It’s become tougher with the loss of Portsmouth Tennis Academy a few years back, because the kids have to travel to get lessons and go places,” Wright said. “So tennis players have to really work hard and go after them to get them. It’s not easily accessible here, so it’s really great that we’re as competitive as we are with these larger schools that have academies next door in their neighborhoods.”
With Division II Southeast Sectional Tournament play in the books, it’s on to the Division II Southeast/East District Tournament, where the six Scioto County qualifiers will each attempt to claim a state qualifying spot for their respective schools.
And while that is the goal that is ultimately desired, the vast majority of the competitors, as well as their coaching staffs, are simply thrilled to have the opportunity to compete for a state tournament position.
“It will be tough (to qualify), but I’m only a junior in high school, so I just plan on giving it my best and working hard, and hopefully, I’ll have the same opportunity to move on again and do the same thing once again,” McGinnis said. “I’m just going to play as hard as I can and put everything into it.”
“I honestly just want them to go up and play their best game,” Wright said. “Win or lose, if they show up and play their best game, they can and should be proud of that. I just want them to go out and give it their all.”
To add to the excellent tennis depth present in the county, Jennice and Copley were able to outlast some of the best competition within its own backyard, as the No. 1 doubles duo for Valley defeated Minford’s Layken Phillips and Hali McCallister, Portsmouth’s Avery Wolf and Lauren Coleman, and Waverly’s Kayleah Shiland and Kenzie Penrod en route to the sixth and final district qualifying position in the Division II Southeast District realm. Portsmouth rounded out a strong showing for the county by putting together a solid showing in its own right, as the duo of Emma Coleman and Rylee Moorhead, along with the Lady Trojans’ top singles hand in Sarah Lemaster, each won two matches during the tournament.