Sindhu Shivaji knew she could believe Zachary Patterson.
After all, it”s easy to listen to someone who has won a state championship.
So when senior Zachary Patterson said at the beginning of the season that the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science tennis team could be “awesome,” Shivaji knew she had to do her part to make that goal a reality.
“I think (I realized the team could be strong) after the first division match (against Houston) because we really dominated,” Shivaji said.
MSMS already has proved Patterson right. Now it is two steps away from winning a state title.
At 4 p.m. today on the MSMS campus in Columbus, Shivaji, Patterson, and their teammates will take on five-time defending state champion Corinth in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A North Half state title match.
Last year, Patterson teamed with Adam Powers, from Columbia, to win the No. 1 individual doubles title. He will team with Powers again today in hopes of keeping their chances of winning another title alive.
Patterson said MSMS lost only one player from last season”s team. He said the addition of several talented boys players and Shivaji and Rebecca Kim made the team even better.
“I knew the team would be really strong,” Patterson said.
A torn ligament in his right elbow forced Patterson to miss nearly the first two months of the season. He said the team banded together and remained at a high level in his absence, which gave him hope it could back up his statement when he returned.
Shivaji said she never doubted MSMS still could be awesome without Patterson.
“Before Zachary went out I had seen Maja (Mzombwe) play, and Maja is the one who stepped up,” Shivaji said. “He was the best guy on our team without Zachary.”
Patterson said Adam Grant stepped up from the ”B” team and filled in nicely for him when he was injured. He also credited Powers for leading the team when he wasn”t able to play.
MSMS tennis coach Marlies Bearden said Patterson is a “tennis junkie,” and Patterson does everything he can to live up to that nickname. He said he has taken a lot of tennis lessons, plays every day, and up to five hours a day in the summer.
All of the work has paid off. Patterson, 18, said he is ranked No. 2 in the state of Mississippi in his age bracket.
Shivaji started playing tennis when she was 7 years old. She said her father literally dragged her out on the court kicking and screaming.
She plans to study psychology in college and isn”t as involved in tennis as Patterson, but she enjoys the escape the sport provides from academics and life outside of the court.
Patterson, who didn”t begin his tennis career until he was 13, will major in biomedical engineering at John”s Hopkins University in the fall. He hopes to play on the school”s men”s tennis team.
Both players credit Bearden for being a great coach and for manipulating the lineup to ensure the team will have success.
There”s no telling what lineup Bearden will come up with today, but Patterson knows MSMS will need an exceptional effort to dethrone the champions.
“We will all have to play our best (today),” Patterson said. “If we play our best I have confidence we can win.”
Other team members are: Shelby Steelhammer (senior, Lauderdale), Ena Wei (junior, Starkville), Ginny Kramer (junior, Quitman), Kristi Gourley (junior, Madison), Rachel McFalls (senior, Northwest Rankin), Song Dong (senior, Oxford), Tim Schultz (senior, Starkville), Adam Grant (junior, Biloxi), Ryan Mackay (junior, Columbus), Maja Mzombwe (junior, Madison), Aaron Hight (Alcorn Central), Rebecca Kim, (junior, Ridgeland), Kristy Gourley (junior), Pauline Dyer (senior, Columbus), and Jason Hu (junior, Columbus).
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.