IT WAS a big moment for the Panther tennis program. In fact, the biggest ever.
The Jackson County boys’ team secured its first trip to the state tournament in school history by beating Elbert County, 3-2, last Wednesday at the Region 8-AAA tournament with wins from Blake Bingham (no. 1 singles), Dylan McDonald (no. 2 singles) and the team of Sebastian Rendon and Owen O’Steen (no. 1 doubles).
“I am beyond words really,” coach Natalie Peterson said. “To say that I’m proud of them is an understatement.”
Jackson County ended up losing to North Oconee in the region semifinals Thursday and then to Hart County later that day in a match to determine the no. 3 and 4 seeds. Then at state, the Panthers lost to Woodward Academy 5-0 Monday in the first round.
Still, the Panthers reaching the state tournament is unprecedented, and Peterson pointed to numerous factors which pushed Jackson County to a historic season: players competing throughout the offseason, playing a tough non-region schedule and consistency in the lineup.
“We set the line up at the beginning of the season and kept it the same throughout region play,” Peterson said.
The coach also noted the addition of lay coach Marshall Sims, “who added a layer of optimism and worked with the players on strategy and drills.”
Peterson praised the leadership of McDonald, the team’s no. 2 singles player, as well.
“Dylan McDonald pulled this team together at regions, huddling the team up for prayer and encouragement before each match,” she said. “I’ve never seen the team so focused on their game and so supportive of each other.”
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