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D-B girls crush Catholic to earn state berth

Jeff Birchfield • May 16, 2019 at 10:53 PM

KINGSPORT — What a way for Willa Rogers to end her high school tennis season.

Dobyns-Bennett’s No. 1 girls singles player clinched the overall match in a 4-0 rout of Knox Catholic in Thursday’s TSSAA Large Schools team sectional at the D-B tennis courts. Rogers, who will miss next week’s state tournament because of a family commitment, dominated Keileen Cullen 6-2, 6-0.

Rogers focused on keeping the ball in play and being aggressive. She was spot-on with her backhand and called her groundstrokes “pretty solid.”

“We were so ready for them. All of us have improved so much for them this year,” Rogers said. “I couldn’t be more happy for my team. It’s bittersweet because I wish I could go with them. But I’m super happy they get to go and I look forward to seeing the results.

“It was really exciting because I don’t think I’ve ever got to clinch a match before.”

The Lady Indians will be making their second straight state tournament appearance. They defeated Catholic last season as well, but that match went down to the wire. This one was a complete blowout; No. 5 singles player Chandni Bhat was pulled off the court leading 6-4, 4-0 in her match.

D-B will face Collierville next week in the state semifinals.

“All the girls have worked so hard — last summer, last fall, over the winter and this spring — to improve,” Lady Indians coach Sara Wallingford said. “They have gotten better and we have gotten deeper. I told them all week this would be a tight match, the matches might go to three sets, and that was the pep talk.”

It obviously was anything but close, and Lainey Hill at No. 2 singles set the tone early.

One day after signing to play for Centre College in Kentucky, Hill romped 6-1, 6-0 over Sara Allen. Hill had all her strokes working, particularly her backhand, to become the first player to walk off the court.

“I had to bring it for my team because the Knox Catholic girls are so good,” Hill said. “Last year, I split sets with the same girls and barely won. I’ve been practicing really hard and knew I had to start out on top.

“My backhand was working well. It isn’t always one of my strongest, but I’m usually relying on it because I know I can put it on the court.”

Sydney Berry took care of business at No. 3, winning 6-4, 6-0 over Ann Caroline Harris. Emily Cai then put the Lady Indians on the verge of victory with a 6-1, 6-2 decision over Vivian Schroeder at No. 4.

Cai feels she’s improved most in the mental part of her game and keeping her composure since the start of the season. She didn’t get fancy in Thursday’s match, sticking with the basics to frustrate her opponent.

“I just concentrated on my forehand, my backhand, my groundstrokes,” Cai said. “I didn’t really want to do any slices. I tried to a few times and didn’t like how it went. I was really happy with my groundstrokes today.”

The whole team was happy to make it back to the state tournament. Their coach was certainly glad to have already made hotel reservations in Murfreesboro.

“I’m so excited for them. It’s a testament to their hard work and determination,” Wallingford said. “Getting a taste of going to the semifinals last year and falling to Brentwood, the eventual champion, we wanted to go back and get another shot. I think we proved tonight we’re better and deeper, and we’re coming for them.”

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