Liberty County High School’s tennis teams placed third in the Region 3-AAAA playoffs to earn spots in this week’s state tournaments.
For the Lady Panthers, it is the first time they’ve qualified for the state playoffs in the new program’s history.
LCHS coach Sandra Eichholz said it seemed like a miracle, considering her players were not too tennis-savvy at the start of the season.
“I had 14 ninth-graders that had never previously picked up a tennis racket, so I had to start from scratch,” she said. “I had four girls return from last season but no boys. I had a group of seniors that really wanted to learn how to play the game … At the beginning of the season, it was tough … we took it on the chin many times, then after the fourth match, things starting to click.”
With so many fresh faces, Eichholz said the team had learn basic fundamentals.
“The thing that I found the most challenging was getting them to understand the concept of angles in tennis,” she said. “And that where you are and where your opponent is important so you can anticipate the next movement.”
Eichholz said they also had two newer region opponents this year in Windsor Forest and New Hampstead.
“Windsor Forest, traditionally, is strong in tennis,” she said, adding she wasn’t sure about the competition level against the two newer teams they faced. “We ended up just destroying Windsor Forest and New Hampstead. The girls went 9-3 for the season, which is awesome with the number of freshmen we had. The boys went 7-5.”
The Panthers lost at Spalding 5-0 on Monday. The Lady Panthers will play Eastside at 1 p.m. today in Covington.
“That’s where I came from. I spent the first half of my career, 16 years in Newton County, which is the county seat there. Eastside is the new school like Liberty is to Bradwell, and we won five state championships,” said Eichholz, who is in her 34thyear of coaching.
Eichholz retired from education three years ago but said she never truly got a chance to step away from her career.
“I never really had an opportunity to step away at all because just as soon as I got out … the next school year, they called me and asked me if I could teach half-time and coach,” she said, adding that she took the offer knowing she didn’t know what she would have done with her spare time.
Eichholz coaching career has included coaching softball, volleyball, basketball, cross country and tennis.
She said it was great to see such a young team of girls make it all the way to state and said they should improve more so for next season.
“They are possessed and they have a passion for it,” she said of her players. “They’ve made a commitment to train during the summer, and I have one girl who made the commitment to work with a private coach.”
The 32-team AAAA state tourneys wrap up with the finals May 9 at Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro.