Alex Billups remembers the “old days” when she and doubles partner Leslie Stringer were the young girls competing in the 16th Region doubles final.
Now it’s turned around.
Billups and Stringer are winding down their senior year at Rose Hill Christian. The one constant? The duo will be playing in the region doubles championship for the fifth consecutive year.
They earned the return trip with a solid 6-2, 6-1 victory over Russell’s Chandler Nguyen (sophomore) and Claudia Kendrick (eighth-grader) on Wednesday night at the Ashland Tennis Center.
“It feels good,” Billups said. “The first few years we felt lucky to be there. Kelsey Hensley and Andrea Wise at Russell were older and we looked forward to playing them. We couldn’t give them anything because they would run with it. Now we are seniors.”
After a pause, Billups added “We still want it as much.”
Today’s title round begins at 4:30 p.m. with the boys and girls singles championships. Both doubles finals will follow.
“I will probably be bawling my eyes out,” Stringer said. “We’ve been here so many times. To think it’s our last is sad.”
Stringer and Billups, 2-2 in the region doubles final, will meet Russell’s second-seeded Maci Ferguson (seventh-grader) and Kierstin Hensley (freshman) for the top spot in a rematch from a year ago. Rose Hill’s then juniors prevailed 6-3, 7-6.
Wednesday’s quarterfinal and semifinal matches were played outdoors in fair weather after being postponed Tuesday due to rain.
Stringer and Billups dropped their first two games in the semifinals before winning 12 of the next 13.
“We finally got it together,” Stringer said. “Sometimes we kind of lose our focus and have to get our act together.”
Overall, Billups is known for her steady play while Stringer supplied the power.
“There’s a bond you need for doubles,” Billups said. “I think we have one. Leslie is like my solid rock. Her serve is insane, and she has a wicked down the line shot. That thing is a bullet. I can count on her to put the ball away.”
At the same time, Stringer knows she can count on Billups for support.
“If I miss a few shots on the court, Alex is like my therapist,” Stringer said. “She gets me laughing and gets me focused.”
Their results continue to be positive. Earlier this season, Stringer and Billups advanced to the finals of the Derby Doubles in Lexington. They avenged a loss from last year’s State Tournament against Sacred Heart’s No. 2 team before finishing runner-up to Sacred Heart’s No. 1 team.
Rose Hill Christian coach Kimberly Bush says she feels blessed to have been able to coach the two seniors.
“They have been wonderful,” Bush said. “These girls have been with me since third and fourth grade. It’s been an amazing journey.”
Rose Hill and Russell are tied for the lead in the girls division with nine points apiece, making today’s doubles final the pivotal match.
The girls single final matches Fairview senior Kennedy Womack against Ashland freshman Lauren Fazenbaker. Last year, Womack played for Rose Hill and defeated Fazenbaker in the title match on her way to a runner-up finish at the State Tournament.
Womack beat Greenup County’s Micah Leslie 6-1, 6-0 in the semifinals, while Fazenbaker made it to the title match for the third straight year by outlasting Greenup County sixth-grader Madison Hill 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 (10-8).
With the third-set tiebreaker even at 6-6, Fazenbaker hit a winner and followed with a service winner. Hill closed it to 9-8 before Fazenbaker finished out the match.
Ashland leads the boys’ standings with 11 points, followed by Rose Hill (10) and Russell (8).
Ashland and Rose Hill will go head to head in both finals today. David Bush of the Royals goes for a fourth consecutive singles crown against second-seeded Robby Berry. In doubles, Ashland’s top-seeded Wesley Daniel and Robby Krick will take on No. 2 Zach Jones and Mitch Reynolds.
Bush stayed undefeated during the high school season with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Russell’s Alex Nguyen.
“I served pretty well and that’s an advantage because it puts pressure on the other guy to win his own serve,” Bush said. “Alex returns serve well. He’s very quick, too. It’s hard to pass somebody like that. I just tried to pull him out of position.”
Nguyen stayed even early in the second set at 2-2, but Bush held serve and then came up with a service break.
Ashland’s Berry turned in a strong performance to beat Russell’s Matthew Eastham 6-2, 6-1 and advance to his first region singles final.
Daniel and Krick did their part to give the Tomcats the team lead by taking down fourth-seeded Danny Brummer and Bryce Kidd 6-0, 6-2.
“It was a must win,” Daniel said. “I thought we had our work cut out for us. Krick came out big. I feel like we’re good at setting each other up, and we can cheer each other up.”
In the other semifinal, Rose Hill’s Jones and Reynolds dug out of an early hole to defeat Ashland’s Alex Newmark and Tucker Schweickart 7-5, 6-1.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.