GIRLS TENNIS: Gordon Lee advances to Final Four

CHICKAMAUGA - The first half of the 2013 tennis season was anything but memorable for the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans.

However, as the old saying goes, it's not how you start, but how you finish, and the Lady Trojans are now one win away from finishing in the Class A public school state finals.

Gordon Lee (11-6) used a come-from-behind win by Sara Holcomb and Katherine Chambers at No. 2 doubles to secure a 3-0 victory over Marion County on Tuesday and punch their ticket to the Final Four for the first time in school history.

"It's nice," said head coach David Eason of the Final Four berth. "We've had some really good teams over the years, but having to play against the private schools, we really haven't had a chance to show what we can do against the other public schools, so this has been a really good opportunity for them.

"I hate it for some of the other girls that played here the past few years that never got an opportunity like this, but I'm happy for these girls this year. They really got it together over the second half of the year and got us to where we are right now."

Five of Gordon Lee's seven starters were just coming off a state championship season with the Lady Trojans' basketball team, and Eason said a lack of practice contributed to his team's slow start.

"Except for (No. 1 singles player) Madison (Hilley), tennis isn't really the main sport for the rest of these girls," he explained. "They probably aren't as confident out here as they normally are with softball, basketball, or volleyball, but they've all been in pressure situations before and succeeded, so I think having the success we've had this year in other sports has helped us out here to a degree."

No. 2 singles player Katie Barger steamrolled Jessica Pickern, 6-0, 6-1, to stake Gordon Lee to the early lead, and the advantage would grow to 2-0 when the No. 1 team of Sara Clayton and Tori McElhaney held off Nicole Williams and Brishon Bridges, 6-2, 7-5.

It looked as if it would be a quick afternoon when Hilley won the first set against Jenna Sizemore, but Sizemore would rally to even the match at a set apiece, and Eason's concern grew even more when Holcomb and Chambers lost their first set, 6-4, and fell behind in the second set.

The Lady Trojans No. 2 doubles team rallied for a 7-6 win to force a third set, but with Hilley trailing 4-3 in her tiebreaking set, and No. 3 singles player Bonnie Hankins down early in the first set of her match, Holcomb and Chambers took down Taylor Hendrix and Savannah Walters, 6-4, in the third set to clinch the match.

The No. 1 and No. 3 singles matches were stopped shortly thereafter.

"We were nervous," Holcomb admitted. "We had to make a few adjustments and work hard (in the last two sets), but we hustled and it finally paid off. It feels pretty awesome to know we'll be playing in the Final Four. I'm blessed to play with such a great group of girls. We all work together and we've really bonded as a team. I just hope we can keep going even farther before this season is over."

Eason added that he was impressed with how far this year's team has come in a relatively short time.

"There's no middle school tennis, so expect for Madison and Katie, who had played tennis before, most of these girls were in the ninth grade before they played their first really serious tennis match," he said. "To go from there to being in the Final Four is really something good."

The Lady Trojans will host the state Final Four match against either Jenkins County or Irwin County. The date and time have yet to be determined.

Gordon Lee's boys' team will also be looking for their first Final Four appearance when they travel to Baconton Charter on Wednesday for a 2 p.m. match.