Liberty County’s tennis teams made the state playoffs, but fell last week in the first round.
For the Lady Panthers, it was the second year in a row making the state playoffs. Last year was the program’s first trip to state.
Liberty finished as the third seed in Region 3-AAAA and went up against Veterans of Warner Robins, the second seed in Region 2-AAAA. Veterans won 5-0.
The Panthers were the fourth seed in their region and played West Laurens, the top seed in Region 2-AAAA. Liberty lost 5-0.
Despite the losses, Panther coach Sandra Eichholz said she continues to see measured improvements in their form and skills.
“Some of the girls, who started when they were in the ninth grade, are now coming up and getting much better every year,” she said.
Among the players she has seen make gains are Cameron Vanhorn and Brooklyn Scott, both juniors, Cecilia Taylor, a sophomore, and Caroline Rykard, a freshman standout.
Also returning from last year were Tatyanna Campbell, Breana Knott, Vanessa Lewis, Alexandria Swinson, Takiyah Phillips, Alexcia West and Yvette Ortiz.
“They are all really coming of age,” the coach said. “I’m hoping next year we can really push the bar.”
She added that the girls seemed driven based on last year’s trip to state.
“They crossed a threshold last year by doing that, and we have some schools that are interested in some of our players,” she said, noting that Brewton Parker, the University of North Florida and Brenau University have been talking to Brooklyn Scott.
“She seems to want to take it to the next level,” the coach said. “We are looking forward to what Brooklyn has to do over this summer.”
Should Scott earn a tennis scholarship, the coach thinks it would be a first for Panther tennis.
“We are going to reach out to a bunch of schools this coming year,” Eichholz said, noting that Scott wants to stay close to home. “Her roots are here. We will just have to see how it all falls out.”
Eichholz said the Panther boys had only one returning player.
“It was tough,” she said. “I went out and recruited some of the football players, and they ended up really come through for me. They worked and played hard.”
The boys were Alex Smith, Cameron Smith, Omar Cange, Dominick Harrison, Jaheim Sutton and Dylan Jackson.
Eichholz thinks the sport could become more popular among the students if introduced in middle school.
She said Ken Scharngl from Bradwell Institute is trying to form a junior tennis league as a feeder program for the high schools.
“That would be the jumpstart that we need here,” she said, adding that Scharngl is planning a camp in June.
“Wayne County has camps, Southbridge Country Club in Savannah has a summer program. Several of our girls and boys have said they would like to be involved …and in order for them to get to the next level they are going to have to keep playing,” Eichholz said.
She said Wayne County has an exemplary program. She added that the Yellow Jackets were one of the toughest teams on the schedule this season.