May 6, 2014 10:52:33 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
As much as high school tennis is an individual sport built around a team concept, Billy Clark said there is no escaping the importance of teamwork.
His Heritage Academy tennis team is a perfect example. On April 30 at the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools North State tennis tournament in Columbus, the Lady Patriots finished second in the team competition buoyed by the first-place showing of Natalie Hardy and Allie Rhett at No. 1 doubles and the runner-up finish by Taylor Dalrymple and Sydney Ellis. In addition, the mixed doubles team of Kirby James and Patrick Mallory finished first in their bracket.
All of the players will test their individual and team acumen Wednesday at the MAIS overall state tournament at the Ridgeland Tennis Center.
"It's about teamwork. It really is," Clark said. "In doubles, you like to play together and know who is going to cover this when certain things happen. That is why you try to play together as much as you can."
Clark snaps his fingers to demonstrate the second-sense players paired together in doubles need to have to be successful. He refers to the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, the world's No. 1 doubles team, when he discusses the communication and intuition players need to try to develop so they can execute a strategy that allows both of them to cover all of the angles and each other's back.
"There is nothing that beats court time," Clark said. "We can sit out here and practice all day long, but you have to have that sense of how to divide the court into angles and you need to be in the right place at the right time."
Ellis said the fact she has known Dalrymple for so long helps their teamwork. She said they have played together for two years and have worked hard on communication so they know how to share the court and to encourage each other. Ellis agrees repetition is essential to building teamwork because it is key to anticipate shots from Dalrymple and their opponents. She said that ability allows players to move instinctively because they know their teammate will cover the opening.
"It makes you a whole lot better when you can work together and move and cover each other's space," Ellis said. "I feel like this year we are almost like a whole new team. You can really develop over time. We have learned a lot from each other this year. It is a great way to end my senior year.
"It is really great (to be able to play in the overall state tournament) because a lot of teams don't get that opportunity. I am really happy I can go out with a bang. Hopefully we will do well."
This is the first year Mallory and James have played together. Mallory said one person can't carry the load in doubles even when one might be a stronger player than the other. He said communication is crucial in trying to keep responsibilities even as much as possible. Still, he admits he gets "selfish" when it comes to taking shots. He said it is a difficult line to walk between being aggressive, or "selfish," and trying to share the court and the shot-making skills.
"It is trust," Mallory said of developing that sense he knows his partner is going to be there. "Eventually that kind of builds up and (you know) that they're going to hit a good shot and that they're going to be there."
Like Ellis with Dalrymple, James said she has known Mallory for a long time, so they have been able to develop a strong playing bond. She said she and Mallory have been able to "open up", or communicate, to help them settle into a rhythm. She said they had all summer leading up to this season and then the season to develop a style of play and the familiarity with each other's game that could help them succeed.
"During matches, we tell each other we're doing wrong and know that we're not mad at each other and we're just trying to help each other out and play better as a team," James said. "Communication is the main thing. ... It gets easier over time."
The Heritage Academy boys placed fourth. Hayden Peel and Tyner Swedenburg lost in the finals of No. 2 doubles. The runner-up finish secured Peel and Swedenburg a spot in the overall state tournament. John Henry Fields and Mattox Heredia lost in the first round of singles, and Thomas Glenn and Jack Ellis lost in the semifinals of No. 1 doubles.
In other girls action, Lauren Pole and Gigi Fields won their first-round matches before losing in the semifinals.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.