Interest soars after Cougars win state championship in ‘17By ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
After years of disappointments and close calls, the Newton County tennis team finally reached the top of the mountain, winning the school’s first-ever state championship in tennis.
“It had been so long of coming in second and we had been so close so many times,” Newton County tennis coach Chad Bond said. “It was a big sense of relief. It’s something we had worked so hard for so long.”
Newton County graduated five starters from last year’s team including Meridian Community College signee Kennedy Rodriguez. Also gone is Ethan McMullan, Zach McMullan, Matthew Brand and Daniel Wall.
“We had 13 upperclassmen last year,” Bond said. “It was one of those situations where we had better win it. We have had good teams in other years but we finally managed to get it to where we had the older, more experienced team.”
This year’s squad has seven seniors with three senior boys, led by Joel Hill, Dylan Barnett and Peyton Chaney.
“Joel and Dylan have been in the starting lineup and have tons of experience there,” Bond said. “This will be Peyton’s first year in the starting lineup. He has spent a ton of time on the court and I think it will pay off for him.”
Joining those seniors will be junior Daylon Nance and freshman Lee Hill. Nance played in the state tournament last year while the younger Hill alternated in the starting lineup. Rounding out the group will be Parker Chaney whom Bond says “has improved more than anybody he has from the end of one season to the beginning of the next.”
On the girls side, Bond has four seniors who have “been with me since the fifth grade,” in Kaliee Baucum, Ali Grace Walker, Josie Hurst and Kaliee Brown.
“I’m proud of the tennis players they have become,” Bond said. “I have watched the process from day one. We expect them to be able to go lock down a court for us. All of them have been in the lineup for three or more years. All of them have been through the wars. We are putting a lot of expectations on them.”
Also expected to be in the starting lineup this season is sophomore Lauren Addy while juniors Alana McMullan and Kameron Rodriguez are battling for a starting spot along with freshmen Ava Espy and Emily Stewart.
“Tennis was already on the upswing as far as the enthusiasm for the program,” Bond said. “We got to present the state championship rings at a football game and that grabs everybody’s attention. I think the biggest step was building our tennis facility. I think that has done as much as anything.”