By Chris Yow
MURFREESBORO — Alexis Perry and Haley Caperton never got the chance to defend their 2019 Small Class State Girls’ Tennis doubles state championship due to COVID-19, so Ella Konig and Gracie Kelly defended it for them with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Madison Magnet’s Mitzi Castro and Sarah Wilson on Friday.
“We are very close to those girls who won two years ago, and I feel like we needed to win because they didn’t get to play last year,” Kelly said.
Continuing to carry the torch of successful girls athletics at Summertown is something players and coaches strive to do, no matter the sport. The tennis torch was first lifted 23 years ago when coach Andrea Kelly — then Andrea Mabry — and Michelle McCormack won the school’s first doubles title in 1998.
“We are fortunate in Summertown. We have athletes who want to work,” said the coach, who has also led the Lady Eagles’ volleyball team to consecutive state titles. “They may not be the best skill-wise, but they have so much heart and ‘want-to’ that in a close game it puts them over the top.
“It’s Summertown; it’s win or die here.”
Both coach and player Kelly noticeably share a surname, and that’s because Andrea is Gracie’s mother. As a young child, Gracie has had a photo of Andrea, Michelle and coach Steve Keeton in her room serving as motivation.
“This is very surreal. She told me she wanted to do this. She and her partner Ella have put in the work, and it paid off (Friday),” Andrea said.
“I’ve always wanted to win an individual championship and follow in her footsteps,” Gracie said.
The doubles team cruised early in the match, winning the first set 6-0, but dropped the first two games of the next set. Similarly, in the semifinals on Thursday they won five in a row before losing four straight in the first set. Andrea Kelly calmed her team down with a quick speech, and it was all Summertown from there.
“They just get a little bit relaxed. Like any sport, there is a lot of mental in tennis and a lot of momentum change,” she said. “I gave them a few pointers when they came over and told them they are in the driver’s seat and they have to drive, not let the other team control the game.”
Konig said the two losses may have helped her and Gracie find their groove in the set to take home their first doubles title.
“I think that may have made us more focused,” she said. “This is our first one together, and we want to come back next year. I think it’s important for us to keep going.”