There were more than enough setbacks before New Albany could finally hit the courts in defense of its state title in 4A tennis. Recent rains reeked havoc on the postseason, but on Tuesday, almost two weeks after the originally scheduled state title match against St. Stanislaus, the Bulldogs took care of business, defeating the Rock-a-Chaws five games to one, winning its second consecutive state title; the third title in four years.
“Everyone was good last night, and we practiced at Millsaps,” New Albany coach Warner Creekmore said. “After that, we started to get more pumped up and ready to play today. It’s hard to keep them focused for two weeks with no match, but they knew they were ready for this.”
A family affair
New Albany has seen it all this season, from injuries to youth stepping up, and the end result was a team winning state and best describing themselves as a family.
“This is the best team we’ve had, I think,” senior Christian Scott said. “We’ve had so much talent, freshmen to seniors, and everyone has stepped up when it mattered.”
It is literally a family affair for Christian and his twin brother, Christopher. The duo has dominated the number one boys’ doubles spot for the Bulldogs, and on Tuesday, won their court 6-3, 6-4. Finishing at almost the exact same time as the number one girls’ doubles team of Olivia Dunnam and Hannah Anderson, those two courts clinched the title for the Bulldogs.
“This is very surreal to come back in this second year and win another state championship,” Christian said. “We fought hard this year and gave it our best. We trained our hearts out.”
And it was not an easy road for the number one boys’ doubles team, as this was the first match Christopher played in since suffering an injury right before the postseason. Coming back from a pinched nerve and herniated disk, the brothers were back in stride once more in the finals.
“I’m super excited, because it’s overwhelming coming back from injury,” Christopher said. “I’ve had to dig it out, no excuses, and this was really important since I didn’t participate in the postseason until now.”
Added Christian, “When I didn’t have him, it was hard to connect with another person, but we came back and focused and reconnected on the court.”
The twins spoke of the setbacks from the last two weeks, citing the mental focus the team has kept throughout the delay.
“It was ridiculous, and when we came down here two weeks ago and were rained out, we decided then that we would not lose our mental and physical focus,” Christopher said. “We kept our minds right, and that’s what made the difference.”
All about the youth
New Albany boasts four seniors this year in the Scott twins, along with Walter Smith and Olivia Dunnam, and the talent keeps coming year after year. Several youth have stepped up this season, with the youngest being seventh grader Morris Kelly Clayton.
At only 13 years old, Clayton has stepped into the girls’ singles spot, and has performed well throughout the season. On Tuesday, she scored the first court win for the Bulldogs, defeating her opponent, 6-1, 6-1.
“I thought it would be very difficult, and I did have to play extremely hard in order to get that big win,” Clayton said. “It took so much effort, and I played my heart out.”
Notably the smallest member of the varsity team, there was little to no intimidation for Clayton throughout the season. Having played the game since the age of six, she is used to the competition and welcomed any opponent, regardless of age or size.
“It has been hard, because of their size, and it was intimidating at first,” Clayton said. “I’ve learned that that’s not important, because I’ve played people who are smaller than me and beat me, so it’s all mental, and I’ve learned to not let it intimidate me anymore.”
Clayton has caught the attention of many in the state, and her coach is proud to have her and other talented up-and-coming players in the years to come.
“It’s incredible, and you know what, she’s going to be here for a while,” Creekmore said of Clayton. “When you think about it, several will be here for the next few years. It’s exciting.”
After Clayton picked up the first win on her court, she was followed by the number two boys’ doubles team of Michael Crotts and Parker Nail, who won 6-2, 6-4. Finishing at the same time as the Scott twins, Dunnam and Anderson picked up the win on their court, 6-4, 6-2 to clinch the title. The final win of the day came at the number two girls’ doubles spot, where Meghan Vann and Katie Davis won 6-3, 7-5.
Summing up the season, Creekmore reflected on how not only the tennis program at the school has grown, but how it has grown throughout New Albany, especially in the last year. All of this shows signs that New Albany will remain in the hunt for more championships in the future.
“I’m tickled with everything; the court, the program, the number of kids participating,” Creekmore said. “It’s all been so incredible.”