The future looks bright for the Heritage Academy tennis team.
With only one senior — Stella Kate Nichols — on the girls squad and three — Bryce Kennedy, Jacob Parker, and Mason Cline — on the boys half of the team, coach Billy “Gip” Clark is excited about the youth movement on the court.
Clark is equally upbeat about the present.
Today, Heritage Academy will try to build on its Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 tournament title when it plays host to the MAIS Class AAA North State tournament at Magnolia Tennis Club in Columbus. The tournament will run all day.
Last Monday, the Heritage Academy girls and boys tennis teams geared up for the event by winning titles. The Heritage Academy girls accumulated eight points. Starkville Academy took second with four. The Heritage Academy boys had six points. Canton Academy took second with 4.5.
For its accomplishments, the Heritage Academy tennis team is the Prep Player of the Week.
“They have played well this year,” Clark said. “Most of them have played not just a couple of months. They have played year round. That is important in tennis. If you’re not going to play year round, you’re not going to be able to compete. All of them have gotten better.”
Clark said all of the girls in the lineup — No. 1 and 2 singles and doubles and mixed doubles — qualified for the North State tournament. He said a tough schedule that featured matches against Laurel Christian, Washington School, and Tupelo Christian Prep have provided tests in a campaign that will wrap up next Wednesday at the State tournament in Vicksburg.
Clark said the girls players are the strength of the team. He said the depth and experience on that side of the roster gives him confidence entering today’s matches. He said the boys half of the squad also has plenty of possible contributors, which should add to the point total for today.
“All of our girls have played well,” Clark said. “Two boys — Blake Ward and Drew Knittig — didn’t play last year. Blake, who plays No. 2 singles, has played exceptionally well. He is a dogged competitor. He will stay out there two hours, three hours, four hours. He can hang with you.”
Haley Barker, Sarah Curtis, Emily Howard, Sydney Imes, Grayson Jones, and Abby Amos make on the girls A squad. Andrew Kelly (sophomore), Knittig (eighth-grader), William Laws (freshman), Owen Riley (freshman), and Ward (freshman) make up the rest of the boys A team.
Clark said he knew the girls team would be strong. He said the competitiveness of seventh- and eighth-graders on the girls side and the youth on the boys side adds to the optimism. He said the key this season has been finding the right mix of players and developing continuity on the doubles teams. Clark said the addition of Imes had solidified the top of the singles lineup.
Clark is even more excited about the return of Carter Smith next season. For now, though, the focus is solely on the present because Clark believes the team can add some more hardware to its haul. He also feels the team’s success this season has raised interest and excitement.
“Most of them have a pretty good attitude about practice,” Clark said. “Sometimes you have to kind of have to nudge them a little bit because some of them think they can not practice and then come out here in February and be ready to play. That’s not the case.
“I am lucky here. We are right across the street (from the school), so the kids come over and we play tennis in there PE classes. Most of them are playing, and it is amazing to see their progression from the start of the year to now.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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