Gate City girls capture record-tying eighth state team tennis title

George Thwaites • Jun 14, 2014 at 8:48 PM

RADFORD — J.J. Kelly's girls tennis program may not exist anymore, but the Lady Indians still need to scoot over and make room for Gate City at the top of the VHSL heap.

Rosa and Emily Smith teamed up to collect a doubles victory over Wilson Memorial's Heather Shields and Landon Aud for the second time in as many days, clinching the Lady Blue Devils' 5-2 win over the Green Hornets in Saturday's VHSL 2A team tennis championship match.

The triumph marked Gate City's third state team tennis crown won under coach Delonda Spivey and eighth in program history, tying J.J. Kelly's all-classification state record for cumulative VHSL team tennis titles.

"That comes from all the good athletes in our program who know what's ahead of them and want to work hard," Spivey said. "I'm really proud to be a part of it and I'm really proud of each and every one of our players. They do their part as a team."

Gate City quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead over Wilson Memorial, which had been vocal about seeking payback for the Lady Blue Devils' 2012 state team title at the Hornets' expense. But the nest was definitely stirred up and in a stinging mood.

Wilson got wins at Nos. 3 and 4 singles to guarantee the finals would spill over into doubles. Cassie Stark got her foot in the door with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Gate City's Taylor Carter at No. 4. Emily Hensley, who ultimately fell 7-6 (4), 6-4 to Delaney Rhodus, was still engaged in her stubborn fight at No. 3 singles when the Smith sisters took to the court.

"It came down to us," said Rosa Smith, who played two matches on Thursday en route to the 2A singles championship and paired with Emily Smith for the state doubles tournament semifinals and finals on Friday.

The Smith sisters beat Shields and Aud 6-1, 6-3 in Friday's doubles tournament semis. The added revenge motive lent the Wilson Memorial tandem early momentum.

"We were down by two early and the whole first set was close," said Emily Smith, who beat Aud 6-2, 6-3 at No. 2 singles. "They were way more aggressive this time and hit a lot more volleys. They wanted this match as much as we did. They came out to play."

The Smiths found their feet, however, recovering the first set 6-4. Infused with confidence, the sisters closed it out 6-1 in the second set.

"Rosa and Emily started playing smart," Spivey said. "They started seeing holes on the court and took advantage of them."

Lady Blue Devils junior Hannah Spivey, whose marathon three-set victory at No. 6 singles clinched Gate City's 2012 state championship, was more than happy to let the Smith sisters handle the center court pressure this time. She was the first Lady Blue Devil to collect a team point, dispatching Anna Miller 6-1, 6-2 at No. 6 singles.

"She was a good opponent, but that was probably the easiest match at state I've ever had. That match my freshman year was the hardest match I've ever played. I haven't played three sets with anyone since," said Hannah Spivey, the coach's daughter. "Today, I was just glad to get that point for our team and get it off my chest."

This year's wide-eyed Gate City freshman was Karson Light, who collected a 6-4, 6-1 win over Sarah Boward at No. 5 singles.

"It's pretty nerve-wracking," the youngster admitted.

It was also exhausting, particularly so for Rosa Smith, who felt the effects of playing four championship-level matches over the two days leading up to Saturday's team finals.

The weather was exceptionally kind to this year's state tennis tournaments in Radford, with only one brief rain delay. Ambient temperatures were in the mid-70s on Saturday. While persistent breezes did not aid the Gate City ace's strokes, the cooling effect was a bonus.

For Rosa Smith, it was all good.

"I am so tired," said Smith, happily clutching her team championship medal. "If it were any hotter, I think I'd be passed out on the ground."

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