Panthers continue tradition, CCHS begins one of its own

Published 7:33 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jemison’s boys and Chilton County’s girls tennis teams will both compete in their respective state tournaments beginning Thursday.

That is where the similarities end.

The JHS boys began the year as an inexperienced squad but one that will be making the ninth consecutive state tournament appearance for a program whose rich tradition also includes three state championships in the early 1990s.

Chilton’s girls, meanwhile, returned almost all their players from last season, but the Tigers are breaking new ground by making state for the first time in the program’s three-year existence.

“They’re very excited,” CCHS coach Emily Espenan said. “I’m excited for them. They’ve worked hard to get here.”

Play in the Class 5A girls state tournament begins Thursday morning at Lagoon Park in Montgomery.

Competing for CCHS are: Ada Ruth Huntley, seventh grade; Anna Adams, junior; Laura Evans, junior; Mary Colby Kelley, junior; Anna Bearden, junior; and Caitlyn Smith, freshman.

Only Huntley and Smith are new additions from last year’s squad.

Smith has come a long way in a short amount of time: She said she had never played tennis before last spring, and now she will play on the state’s biggest stage for high schoolers.

Smith and Bearden advanced all the way to the doubles finals in their sectional tournament last week—even if it was the first time they played together.

“We work well together; we communicate well,” Smith said.

Bearden said this year’s CCHS squad is better equipped to handle the state tournament.

“There’s more confidence, and we support each other more,” she said.

Jemison coach Benton Morton wasn’t sure his boys team would be able to continue its impressive streak after losing five players off last year’s team, but several Panthers stepped into important roles and performed well.

“I knew the talent was there,” Morton said.

The potential seemed to begin turning into results after JHS lost a 5-4 decision to St. James on March 1.

The two rivals could see other again in the Class 4A tournament, which begins Thursday at the Cox Tennis Center in Mobile.

Andrew Morton said the Panthers thought they could make it back to state even after sustaining heavy losses to graduation.

“That was our goal,” he said. “We worked hard last summer. We were [at the courts practicing] at least three days a week.”

One of the players who filled an important role was Brett Paschal.

“I ended up being a lot better than I thought,” he said. “Before, it was a lot harder to play with someone like Andrew.”

Also traveling to Mobile will be Jake Long, Trevan Anderson, William Morton and Dylan Cummings.