Several area high school tennis players carry high hopes — and high seeds — into the KHSAA State Tournament.
‰Kennedy Womack, now a Fairview senior, came within one tight match of winning the girls state singles championship a year ago.
‰Rose Hill Christian junior David Bush is poised to make another deep run in the boys singles draw.
‰Both girls doubles teams that battled it out in the 16th Region Tournament final are seeded 3-4 this week in Lexington.
“It’s a great thing for our area, having four seeds in the top five at state this year,” Russell girls coach Larra Ferguson said.
Beyond that, there’s a group of local players looking to build on past State Tournament experiences or make good first impressions.
Competition begins today at the University of Kentucky’s Boone/Downing Tennis Complex. Rose Hill Christian’s boys team, coming off its first section title Sunday, will go up against Lone Oak at 5 p.m. in the Final Four. St. Xavier meets Henry Clay in the other semifinal.
“Our boys are excited and looking forward to the opportunity to participate and be a part of the top four teams at state,” Rose Hill coach Kimberly Bush said. “Just getting out of our section, Corbin was a tough team and so was Lawrence County. We never dreamed we would make it this far.”
Rose Hill prepared for the challenges by scheduling some matches outside the region and traveling to other parts of the state.
“It just helped our confidence,” the Royals’ coach said. “Then we weren’t afraid to see that kind of competition any more.”
Seniors Mitch Reynolds and Zach Jones won their first region doubles title to help lift the Royals to the championship.
Team leader David Bush knows some of the players from Lone Oak, last year’s state runner-up.
“I’m not sure if we can pull it out, but I think we can compete with them if our guys play well,” Bush said. “It’s good to see that kind of competition because it raises the standard in how you play.”
On Thursday, the State Tournament shifts to its traditional singles and doubles format.
Bush advanced to the state quarterfinals as a sophomore and has not lost a singles match during the 2013 high school season. He received one of the four No. 5 seeds in the singles draw after being strongly considered for the fourth spot.
Bush beat No. 4 seed Brandon Lancaster, now a St. Xavier sophomore, at last year’s Joe Creason tournament. Lancaster won their most recent meeting.
“I was happy to be at the top of the 5s,” Bush said. “It’s definitely what I was looking for.”
The four-time 16th Region singles champ is as sharp as ever, bolstered by his USTA tournament experience.
“Seeing the improvement, the evolution of it, I feel more confident this year,” Bush said.
St. Xavier’s Sean Donohue is the top seed, followed by Emerson Walsh of Trinity. Both are seniors.
Womack got the No. 1 spot on the girls side, which she called a bit of a surprise.
“There’s not really a point system to how they seed,” she said. “It’s cool being the No. 1 seed, but there are a lot of good competitors. Some of them I’ve played in the Creason and State Tournament.”
Womack beat Christian Academy junior Ellie Gerlach — this year’s No. 4 seed — in the 2012 semifinals before losing 6-4, 6-4 to Notre Dame’s Maddie Cook, who graduated.
“It definitely gives me motivation after coming that close to winning and not quite pulling through,” Womack said. “I hope the second time is the charm. Having the experience of playing in the finals will help me.”
Third-seeded Madeline Rolf of Lexington Sayre looms as a threat. The sophomore home-schooled before deciding to play high school tennis this spring.
“She’s a good player,” Womack said. “If we do meet, I think it will be a competitive match. I played her in the 16s (age group) in the Creason.”
Womack transferred from Rose Hill to Fairview during her senior year and signed with Morehead State University in November. She cut back on training and travel to enjoy her last year of high school, but lost only four games at the 16th Region Tournament in winning her third singles title.
“I feel pretty good about my game,” Womack said. “I’ve been practicing a lot, working on some things with my coaches. It’s my senior year, my last big hurrah I guess. Hopefully I will just go and win it.”
She’s trying to join former Russell great Julie Ditty as the only local player to win the girls state singles championship. Ditty did it three times.
“I’ve always looked up to Julie as a player and person,” Womack said. “She’s been my role model since I was little. It would be cool to say I did one of the same things she did.”
In girls doubles, Russell freshman Kierstin Hensley and seventh-grader Maci Ferguson are seeded third, one spot ahead of Rose Hill Christian seniors Alex Billups and Leslie Stringer.
“Kierstin and Maci have had a really good season,” said Larra Ferguson, noting that their only two losses came against the No. 1 and No. 4 state seeds — Sacred Heart and Rose Hill (regular season).
Hensley and Ferguson defeated Billups and Stringer 6-1, 7-5 for the region title.
Last year, Russell’s then eighth-grader and sixth-grader advanced to the Round of 16 at the State Tournament.
“One thing about these girls, when it’s a high-pressure match I’m a nervous wreck but they seem to do just fine,” the coach said.
The two players move around the court well, know how to rally from the baseline and rely on consistency.
Another plus is that Ferguson has grown nine inches to 5-foot-5 in the past year. The added height, strength and wingspan allow her greater court coverage and more power.
Other 16th Region players headed to the State Tournament include: Ashland’s Lauren Fazenbaker, Robby Berry, Wesley Daniel, Robby Krick, Alex Newmark and Tucker Schweickart; Russell’s Alex Nguyen, Matthew Eastham, Claudia Kendrick and Hunter Nguyen; Rose Hill Christian’s Rachael Bush and Madison Lett; Greenup County’s Micah Leslie and Madison Hill; and Rowan County’s Danny Brummer and Bryce Kidd.
Lawrence County, the 15th Region boys and girls winner, will send Jake Estep, Cole McCreary, Jacob West, Matt Hammond, Shelby Hay, Ali Dotson, Chelsea Shepherd, Abby Haynes and Eden Webb.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.