RADFORD, Va. — The Gate City girls tennis program has a lot of tradition going for it on the courts at Radford University. But the Lady Blue Devils are by no means alone there.
Gate City’s Jordan Barnes came to Radford University hoping to win a Group A state girls singles championship, and ran into a scarily unstoppable dynasty. The weight of tournament history remained on the side of Bland County sophomore Grace Sarver, who held off the Lady Blue Devils ace 6-1, 6-0 in Thursday’s state championship match.
Sarver’s older sister, Ashleigh, won four consective Group A state singles titles while playing for the Bland Rockets from 1996-1999. She never lost a set while.
Now, Ashleigh Sarver is Ashleigh Beasley, third-year coach of the Bland County program. Her younger sibling — who was but a tot when she played her prep tennis — is the ace player for the Region C champion Lady Bears squad. As of Thursday, Grace Sarver was 23-0 on the season and 48-0 since she started. She has yet to drop a set.
“I was nervous a little bit going into it because I have some pressure on me,” said Sarver, who ousted George Mason’s Kelsey Kane 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals. “I really like the atmosphere here.”
Beasley, who played two years at Radford University before wrapping up her college career at Virginia Tech, admits that it is impossible to deny the dynastic connection between herself and her younger sister. So many years have passed since she played, however, that any sense of sibling rivalry has been softened by time.
“She was about three when I played here, which is the age of mine, now. That’s kind of creepy. I vividly remember her playing around in ice. Just sitting beside the court, playing in ice,” said Beasley.
“It’s not about me anymore. This is her time.”
Barnes, a 5-foot-8 senior who transferred to Gate City from Cookeville, Tenn., this year, became one of the few high school players in Virginia to collect a game off Sarver (or anyone else named Sarver) breaking her serve at 3-1 in the second set. Not that the Lady Blue Devils ace was consoled by that feat.
“She obviously played to my weaknesses. That’s what any great player is going to do. There’s not a lot you can do about that,” said Barnes. “There were mistakes I shouldn’t have been making, but that’s the way it goes. I felt a lot of pressure to keep it deep on her, because she’s a very strong player. She got control of the points early and those points are the points that she won.”
The tenacious Sarver proved capable of exhausting rallies — 17 strokes and more without batting an eye. While getting moved around more than she’d been for most of the season, Barnes (18-2) went for some winners that ultimately went against her.
“I think Jordan tried to push the ball at times instead of setting the point up and being patient,” said Gate City coach Delonda Spivey. “As well as Grace played today, Jordan had a difficult day. We couldn’t get the shots that normally fall for her and when she set the point up well, that’s when she didn’t execute it in play. It was a tough loss.”
Beasley thought her little sister did a good job living up to her expectations: “This was a solid match for her. She didn’t make too many unforced errors, which is huge. She moved well, stepped into the ball well and kind of took charge of it. I didn’t notice any nerves coming into it. She acted like she knew what she was doing.”
Barnes, who may be playing for East Tennessee State next fall, acted like she knew what she was doing in her morning semifinals match-up with Rappahannock’s Jessica Bronner. Barnes prevailed 6-4, 6-4 in a contest between the two tallest players in the draw. Bronner, a six-footer, will play her college tennis at Sweet Briar.
“I tried to hit the ball low so she’d have to bend her knees. That goes against what tall people want to do,” said Barnes, who fell behind 3-4 in the second set but held service and broke Bronner at 5-4 to move ahead and stay ahead.
The Region D champion Lady Blue Devils’ sojourn in Radford continues today as the Group A state team and doubles tournaments begin. Gate City opens team play with a 9 a.m. match against George Mason. Barnes, who is paired with teammate Tori Bowen, will see Sarver again in the 3 p.m. doubles tournament semifinals.
Should the Lady Blue Devils prevail today against George Mason, Barnes could face Sarver again in Saturday’s team tournament finals — if the Lady Bears beat Mathews in the semifinals.
“Jordan is an awesome player and an asset to our team,” Spivey said. “We have to focus on tomorrow for the team and get her back into her game. We’re going to let Jordan rest her legs and we’ll discuss a few things. But she’ll be ready to play for the team tomorrow.”