The Commerce girls’ tennis team put together one of its best seasons ever, but that didn’t make the end any easier.
The Tigers fell 3-1 Wednesday (April 28) in a tight match to Irwin County in the Class A-Public Elite Eight.
Coach Charlie Smith said an overachieving team had its sights set on a title.
“It’s hard when it’s over. With this team, anything less than a state championship, in my mind, we should still be playing,” Smith said. “But we grew into that. I didn’t know what we had at the beginning of this year.”
After losing key senior classes the past two seasons, the Tigers returned only one player with significant varsity experience this season. Nevertheless, a largely inexperienced varsity group dominated its way through the season and earned its way back into the Elite Eight, facing Irwin County once again.
“They were able to carry us here,” Smith said.
In a rematch of the 2019 quarterfinals, Commerce led on three of four courts at one point early on but then ended up dropping the first set in three of the matches.
No. 2 singles player Kamden Cotton was the exception as she secured a 6-2 first-set victory and then rallied from 3-0 down in the second set to win 7-5, providing a Commerce point.
Commerce trailed 2-1 after losses at No. 1 doubles and No. 1 singles but had a path to victory with No. 3 singles player Lauren Lindsey winning her match, and the No. 2 doubles duo of Joely Lord and Kaylee Martin battling in a third set.
Lord and Martin, however, lost their closely-contested doubles pairing, 4-6, 6-4, 5-7, as Irwin County secured the decisive third point.
“7-5 in the third set, aside from a tiebreaker, that’s as close as you’re going to get,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way.”
Lindsey, who won her first set 6-0, led her second set when her match was discontinued.
Smith put the loss into perspective.
“Was it a tough pill to shallow? Yeah it was,” Smith said. “We don’t want to lose. We want to keep playing. Are we sad it’s over? Yeah, we are. But are we better for it? Yes. We’re better for this team, for being together, being out here, being in competition together, learning how much you have in you.”
Commerce’s season highlights included a region title and perfect record in region play for the first time ever. Smith praised his team’s senior class — which included Lord, Martin and No. 1 singles player Megan Suber.
“I got to watch them grow from freshmen all the way into seniors, between Joely, Kaylee and Megan,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, where not here without them.”
“We’ll watch our seniors go on to the next stage of their life,” Smith added. “I can’t wait to see what they do in their life. Maybe they learned a lesson or two out here on the tennis court.”
Commerce will return a talented rising senior class with rising juniors and sophomores added to the mix.
“So, there’s a bright future for Commerce tennis, for sure,” Smith said. “Being in it is part of it … I’m sad we lost but I’m just incredibly proud of these girls.”