By Marty Kirkland
Dalton High School sophomore tennis player Anna Grace Wilson never feels like her singles match is any less important because it’s on the No. 3 court instead of No. 1.
But maybe what she did Monday is a good reminder to everyone else that until the match is over for the entire team, what happens on all three singles courts and both doubles courts matters equally — a point made more clearly with each passing round of the postseason.
“There’s only five matches and three out of five have to win,” Wilson said. “Three anywhere.”
A doubles sweep and Wilson’s rally helped the host Lady Catamounts beat Carrollton 3-1 in the second round of the Class 4A state tournament, setting up the Dalton girls’ first appearance in the state quarterfinals since 2007.
The Lady Cats, the Region 7 champions, face the winner of Monday’s match between Region 5 runner-up Columbus and Region 6 champion Marist. Dalton would host Columbus but would have to win a coin toss with Marist to host the Lady War Eagles, who are also a No. 1 seed. Quarterfinals play must be completed by Saturday.
Wilson’s resiliency against Carrollton’s Madison Harris was key to the Lady Cats (16-3) keeping their postseason run going.
After dropping the first set 6-1, Wilson battled for a 7-5 second-set victory before rolling 6-1 to close out the match — both for herself and the team.
At No. 1 singles, Dalton’s Courtney Morton was first off the court after a short day via a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Carrollton’s Kat Burger. But the Lady Cats didn’t trail on the overall team scoreboard for long thanks to their doubles performances.
Dalton evened things up with a victory from No. 1 Mackenzie Creswell and Sheridan Fromm — 6-4, 7-5 over Sarah Beth Alford and Katey Brooks — and went ahead as No. 2 Rachel Bakker and Caroline Calfee beat Jessica Dewberry and Sydney Butler 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.
Well after their match was over and the team was celebrating its quarterfinals berth with a phone call to Dalton coach David Hilley — he was on the road with Dalton’s boys team, who later lost 3-2 at Madison County in the second round — Creswell and Fromm were beaming at the day they’d had.
“It was probably the best that we’ve played all year,” Fromm said. “It was really rewarding because last year we lost to them. It wasn’t the same team but it was Carrollton, so for me it was kind of revenge. I had to win.”
For Creswell it was about knowing that a win could provide a lift after the early singles loss.
“It definitely built our confidence for ourselves and our team,” she said.
Carrollton coach Pam Lambert said she felt like her team “had depth coming into this round” but that her team was also very young, with sophomores filling the slots for both doubles squads as well as at No. 3 singles.
“Our doubles, especially our No. 1 doubles, have been our stabilizer this year along with No. 1 singles,” Lambert said. “They just had a bad day.”
When Bakker and Calfee walked off the court, both of the remaining singles matches were in the third set, with Dalton’s Kara Pendley taking on Jamie Bryant in the No. 2 slot.
Dalton’s doubles sweep left Carrollton in need of the same feat for singles, but the Lady Cats only needed either Pendley or Wilson to come through. While Wilson was in command of the third set, when Pendley tumbled while lunging for a shot that tailed back and to her right — she skinned a knee and said she also hit one of her shoulders and her head — it highlighted the need for every player to do her job.
After Wilson won, Pendley and Bryant played a few more points before Dalton athletic director Ron Ward shut down the match out of concern for Pendley’s health and the fact that it was of no consequence. But had Pendley not been able to go on and Wilson faltered, the Lady Cats would have not been making such a pleasant call to Hilley.
Wilson kept that scenario in “what if” territory.
“To lose the first (set), for her, is not a real big deal. It’s not a crisis situation,” said Dalton assistant Jim Case, who oversaw the Lady Cats in Hilley’s absence. “She has a knack for kicking in the mental toughness and getting some shots and adjusting a little bit. She’s a tough girl.”
After the Lady Cats beat Banneker in the opening round last week, Hilley spoke of the importance of depth and consistency, particularly later in the year when good teams meet foes as good or better. Even without his presence Monday, Dalton’s girls played as if that message is one they understand.
“We’ve been pretty good this whole season,” Wilson said. “It’s not like one very good girl and the rest not so good. The whole team is very talented.”
• Madison County boys 3, Dalton 2: In Danielsville, the Cats swept doubles but couldn’t pick up a much-needed singles victory as their season ended in the second round of the Class 4A bracket.
No. 1 B.J. Rowland and Thomas DeLay beat Adam Sartain and Zach Penegui, 6-1, 6-2, while No. 2 P.K. Bhatter and Will Alderman beat Hank Sartain and Koti Nguyen, 6-2, 7-5, to lead Dalton (15-4), the No. 2 seed from Region 7. But Region 8 champion Madison County (20-3) got straight set wins in all but one singles match.
Dalton’s No. 1 Jacob Johnson lost to Trey Morris, 6-1, 6-0, while No. 2 Nathan Bryant lost 6-3, 6-2 to Ben Strickland and No. 3 Shazman Ali lost to Tyler Terrell, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“It was a tough loss but we did win 15 matches this year, which is the most we’ve won since 2005,” Hilley said in a phone interview. “We lost three matches 3-2 and we had a couple of rainouts or it probably would have been (the program’s) second most wins ever. They’re the second best boys team I’ve had in my 11 years.
“(Madison County) came to our place 10 years ago and we beat them in a heartbreaker 3-2, and now it happens to us.”
While Hilley is optimistic about the future, saying he has good players who will be ready to step into starting roles for the first time next year, he lamented the loss of seniors Bhatter, Rowland and Efra Uscanga, four-year members of the team.
“It’s kind of hard to see them go,” he said. “It will be weird not to see them out there next year, because they’ve been there since they were freshmen.”
• The annual Lady Conasauga Cup, which was to include golfers from the girls teams at Dalton, Murray County, North Murray, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield, was not played Monday due to wet conditions at Indian Trace. Southeast coach Todd Murray said the tournament will likely not be made up.