By Marty Kirkland
At some point, Dalton High School will have to update the sign outside of its tennis courts listing region championship teams so that it includes the 2013 girls squad.
Before then, the Lady Catamounts will try to earn one of the extra symbols attached to the years in which teams made a deep run in the state tournament — the quarterfinals, semifinals or the championship match.
The Lady Cats took their first step toward going from good to great among the legacies of their program’s past lineups with Thursday’s 5-0 victory against visiting Banneker in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament.
Dalton (15-3), the No. 1 seed from Region 7, only needed a little more than an hour and dropped just three games — one in each singles match — on its way to beating the College Park school. The Lady Trojans (7-2) were the fourth seed from Region 6.
Dalton coach David Hilley, whose boys team breezed past Grady 5-0 in the first round of state on Tuesday, isn’t complaining about spending too little time on the court in the opening round.
“It’s nice to not have to worry the whole time what’s going to happen,” Hilley said. “I used to tell the kids, ‘When I first came here, I didn’t have any gray hair and now I do, but that’s because I’ve been here 11 or 12 years.’ It was nice to be able to relax today.”
Hilley expects the tests to be tougher immediately. Dalton’s boys will play their second-round match at 4 p.m. Monday at Madison County, while the Lady Cats will host Carrollton, likely on Tuesday, Hilley said. The winner advances to the quarterfinals.
“We can make it to the quarterfinals,” he said. “But the competition gets stiffer as we go along, so we’re going to have to play better the next round and even better than that if we get through them.”
Pleasant temperatures might have played a part, but the Lady Cats — let alone Hilley — didn’t do much sweating as No. 1 Courtney Morton, No. 2 Kara Pendley and No. 3 Anna Grace Wilson each picked up a 6-1, 6-0 victory in singles play against Banneker.
In doubles, No. 1 Sheridan Fromm and Mackenzie Creswell and No. 2 Rachel Bakker and Caroline Calfee each won 6-0, 6-0, with the latter squad earning the day’s first win.
Bakker, a senior who returned to the court this season after taking last year off to focus on academics, is on her way to the second round for the first time.
“I expect it to be a jump,” she said. “I think we’ll win next round — and then we’ll just see who we play then.”
Calfee said being a No. 1 seed offers a “boost of confidence” during the state tournament, and she’s eager to see Dalton keep the season alive.
“We’re going to try our best to see how far we can go,” she said.
While it had been a while since the Lady Cats won a region title — this year’s championship was the first since 2008 — state tournament berths have been a regular occurrence. So for this year’s Lady Cats, separating themselves from other Dalton squads will mean either continuing to display the consistency and depth that have made them a tough foe or wondering about what might have been.
Hilley knows from experience that regrets over a point here or there are felt more deeply during the state tournament.
“You can’t squander opportunities when you’re just as good as somebody else,” he said. “When you’ve got the chance to finish a game, you’ve got to finish that game. You can’t make some silly mistakes and end up losing a game that you shouldn’t have lost. You’ve got to stay competitive the whole way, and then it just comes down to a point here or there.
“You know, in tennis you could actually win more points and lose the match, so you’ve got to stay focused the entire time. When you get up 40-love you’ve got to stay focused; when you’re down love-40 you’ve got to keep playing hard.”
Anna Grace Wilson said other things have been key to this year’s success as well.
“I think that we’re a really close team,” she said, “and there’s a lot of talent and a lot of effort.”
If the Lady Cats advance past Carrollton, their coach figures on seeing Region 6 champion Marist — which hosts Columbus next week — in the quarterfinals, and he has no doubt that would be a tough match. The Lady War Eagles have 21 state titles to their credit, missing out last season after a run of three straight championships, but Banneker coach Sebastian Reglin said he believes Dalton’s talent this year is on the same level as that of Marist, which beat his Lady Trojans in the Region 6-4A tournament semifinals.
“In our region, when we played it was pretty much trying to figure out who was going to finish second,” Reglin said. “They’re just that strong.”