By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain’s doubles team of Ella Harris and Natalie Partain finished fourth in the West 2-A Regional Tennis Tournament.
They qualified for the State 2-A Tennis Tournament, which opens Friday at the Cary Tennis Park.
In the first round of the regionals Friday at Shelby, Harris and Partain breezed past R-S Central’s Riley Tipple and Emily Huddleston 6-1, 6-0.
“The pair played strong and competitive tennis,” Coach Ashley Doolin said. “They both had some really nice placement shots. They went into the tournament with a little different strategy than they usually played with – to work their opponents by using more of a variety of shots rather than just try to out power their opponents.”
In the second round, Harris and Partain played what Doolin called their best match of the season in a 6-2, 6-2 win over South Point’s Brooke Cox and Dezi Kauer.
“It was the match to watch,” Doolin said. “It was hard to take our eyes off of this one. They combined a variety of shot placement and strategy. Both of the girls had powerful serves, which added to their success throughout the day. It was nice to see the girls play their game and let their talent show.”
Foard’s Alexis Wolgemuth and Hannah Cummings, the top seed, defeated Harris and Partain 6-0, 6-2 in Saturday’s semifinals. Wolgemuth was part of the doubles state championship team last season.
“Wolgemuth is a lefty who plays incredible tennis,” Doolin said. “Not only is she a talented athlete but being a lefty gives her an advantage in the tennis world. A lefty leaves a different spin on their ball and it takes time to adjust to their play.
“Harris and Partain started off a little rocky with too many easy mistakes coming into play,” she added. “In the second set the pair played more competitively with longer rallies and stronger points. It all came down to shot placement and keeping it away from Wolgemuth.”
The third place contest was a rematch from the Mountain Six Conference Tournament against Hendersonville’s Anna Trace and Olivia Pursley. After losing to them in the conference tourney, Harris and Partain won the first set 7-5 and lost the second 7-5. In state playoffs, a third set is to be played. However, with rain moving in an agreement was made to play a seven-point tie-breaker, which the Hendersonville duo won 7-5.
“The girls were neck to neck all the way through the first set before they pulled ahead,” Doolin said. “We just couldn’t put together a win when we needed it in the second set. We jumped ahead early in the tie-breaker.”
The match ended on a controversial line call.
Harris played with Maddy Polyasko in last year’s state tournament.
“She has the experience and knows what to prepare for,” Doolin said. “It’s really neat. Harris was brought to the state championship tournament with her former partner, Polyasko, and now she’s taking on the big sister role and bringing Partain. We really look forward to getting the girls the exposure and chance to participate in such an elite competition. If they play smart they’ll be golden. That’s the toughest part of competing at this level. It gets harder and harder to find your opponents’ weaknesses and capitalize on points. They’ve got the athleticism.”