The Madison County boys’ tennis team has reached the Elite 8 for the first time since the state tournament expanded from a 16-team to a 32-team draw in 2003.
“We’ve been to the round of 16 six times since the change,” said Red Raider head coach Keith Strickland. “It feels really good to finally get over that hurdle. I’m extremely proud of the boys for stepping up and getting the job done this year. We were so close last year.”
The Raiders advanced to the final eight with a 3-2 win over Dalton Monday. Now the guys will travel to Carrollton at 4 p.m., Thursday, May 2.
“We’ve had an outstanding year so far and look forward to the opportunity in the Elite 8 against Carrollton,” said Strickland. “We know that they are a very good team and that we have to play our best tennis that day to advance.”
Madison County guys’ number one singles player Trey Morris said advancing to the Elite 8 is a big accomplishment for the Raiders.
“Our team has never won two rounds in state in history and for it to happen to me on my senior year feels amazing — hopefully we are not finished yet though,” said Morris, who is 23-0 on the year.
The Monday matchup with Dalton to advance to the final eight was a back-and-forth affair.
Madison County lost at #1 doubles, then tied the match as Morris dominated his opponent 6-1, 6-0.
“Trey has been a tremendous asset to our team and program,” said Strickland. “He’s really stepped it up this year as a team leader and captain.”
The Raiders fell behind 2-1 as Hank Sartain/Koti Nguyen (#2 doubles) lost 6-2, 7-5.
“They played a great second set and I thought they were going to force a third and deciding set,” said Strickland.
The Raiders then bounced back, tying the match at two. Ben Strickland, playing a tough opponent but also playing some of his best tennis – took #2 singles 6-3, 6-2.
It all came down to Tyler Terrell at #3 singles. After losing the first set 3-6, he fought back to take the second 6-4.
With this, the team match came down to one set for a trip to the Elite 8.
“Tyler struggled a bit in the beginning of the set to get down 1-3, but fought his way back to 4-3,” said Strickland. “His opponent battled to tie it at 4-4. At this point, Tyler’s speed and tenacity helped him to break serve and then hold for the 6-4 win.”
The Raiders advanced to the Sweet 16 showdown with a first-round, 5-0 blowout of Shaw at Madison County.
“Before the match, senior Trey Morris reminded the boys in our pre-match huddle that they needed to go out and take care of business on their court because we were only getting this one chance to advance,” said Strickland. “The boys took what he said and played some
exceptional tennis as they downed their opponents, losing just 11 games in all five matches.”
Ben Strickland, #2 singles, led the charge, playing his best match thus far this season on his way to a 6-0, 6-0 victory.
Tyler Terrell followed with a decisive win at #3S, 6-3, 6-1.
“Both doubles teams played heads-up tennis by starting strong and never looking back,” said the coach.
Adam Sartain and Zach Peneguy downed their opponents 6-1, 6-1, while Hank Sartain and Koti Nguyen won 6-2, 6-1.
Girls fall to Carrollton
Also last week, Madison County’s girls’ team was knocked out of the state playoffs in a close, 3-2 defeat to Carrollton. The girls finished the season at 15-6 (10-2 in the region).
“The Carrollton girls had real depth throughout their line-up,” said Strickland. “The top two singles players are seasoned tournament players. Maranda Dove (#2 singles) played her best match of the season. She battled to force a tie-break in the first set. But the match experience of her opponent showed in the second as she won the set 6-2 to take the match and clinch the team win for Carrollton.”
Madison County was down 3-1 at this point and Strickland decided to let the #3 singles play it out since they were already in the third set.
“Match after match, I’ve been saying that Morgan Dooley (#3 singles) played her best match so far,” said Strickland. “She did it again. She played some very deliberate and controlled tennis. After taking the first set, she lost a little momentum and lost the second set 5-7. She battled in the third but fell behind 5-6 before rallying to force a tie-break. She won the tie-break to give us our second win.”
The coach said Savannah Mainland and Karli Booth (#2 doubles) came on the court and played some very aggressive tennis, especially at the net.
“The senior girls ended their high school career on a high note with a 6-0, 6-3 win,” said Strickland. “I am very proud of the girls and what they accomplished this season. We’ve had some strong performances by our senior players and the underclassmen have stepped it up when needed.”