Photo by Michael Buckelew
DANIELSVILLE -- Make it a three-peat.
Alix Maloney dominated at No. 1 singles and Ashley Merkel won in straight sets at No. 3 singles Friday, leading to a 3-1 victory for the Heritage girls tennis team in the Region 8-AAAA championship match over Flowery Branch at Madison County High School.
The Lady Patriots, who had never won a region title prior to the 2009 season, clinched their third consecutive league crown.
"We try to set the standard high," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "We're just so proud of the four seniors and the three juniors. It's a good team atmosphere right now. It's never easy, (but) I think the experience has helped. (Even though) you're always facing good competition, you're just confident knowing we put in the time."
Maloney made quick work of Anna Kate Shaw, winning 6-0, 6-0, and the Lady Patriots' No. 2 doubles team of Callie Alford and Amanda Voyles won 6-0, 6-2. But Flowery Branch, in its first season in Region 8-AAAA, won at No. 2 singles when Elizabeth Mallory bested Kaylee Humphries 6-4 (2-6) 6-4, which left it all up to Merkel.
She didn't disappoint, winning 6-0 in the first set before outlasting Morgan Reed 6-4 in the second set to clinch the match and the championship.
"Our singles players put in a lot of work," said Smith. "They do a good job of keeping their composure. Alix just really controlled her match. ... (She) made very few errors. To get that first 'W' in team tennis is huge. It's what we expect from our No. 1 player."
Heritage will host Chamblee, the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAAA, in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs with a date and time still yet to be determined.
The Rockdale boys sought to win the program's first region tournament title but fell 3-0 to host Madison County in the championship match. No. 1 singles player Shoman Kasbekar lost 6-0, 6-1 to Trey Morris; Patrick Sanders fell 6-2, 6-1 to Ben Strickland at No. 2 singles; and the No. 2 doubles team of Jacob Dollar and Yuvraj Windlass lost 6-1, 6-1 to Josh Dooley and Jared Osborne.
Despite the disappointing final, the Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 8 in Class AAAA -- a first-ever state ranking for the program -- still exceeded expectations and as a No. 2 seed will host Region 6-AAAA's No. 3 seed, Lakeside-DeKalb, in next week's first round of state.
"It's beyond our expectations; it's a tremendous record," Rockdale co-head coach Ramona Sabau-Houston said. "We were pretty much nonexistent before this. We put Rockdale County High School on the map (and) the kids are excited."
"It's awesome," co-head coach Stephen Sansing added. "I told the kids last year when we lost to Winder-Barrow (that) we want to do what we have to do to come back stronger. They've put in some work this year; these kids put in the effort. We don't think it's a one-year wonder."
The Rockdale girls also made history in the past two days, not only qualifying for the state tournament for the first time, but coming back to defeat host Madison County 3-2 in Friday's consolation match to grab the region's No. 3 seed.
Freshman sensation Summer Walker and sophomore Ciara Chesser won handily at No. 1 singles and No. 2 singles, 6-0, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1, respectively, but the Lady Bulldogs had to fight for the third win.
With the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams falling, Amanda Mordt had to win at No. 2 singles to clinch the match. Mordt fell in the first set to Sam LaZear 6-2, but clawed back to win the final two sets 6-3, 6-4.
"We've had better players (but) we were more focused and more cohesive as a team," said Sabau-Houston. "We are definitely proud, very proud."
Rockdale will open the first state tournament in the program's history next week, traveling to Lakeside-DeKalb, Region 6-AAAA's No. 2 seed.