Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Panther tennis suffers setback after fast start

Leader sportswriter

The past two weeks have not been kind to Cabot tennis after a blistering start for the Panthers.

Monday’s match against Little Rock Central marked the second-consecutive 7A/6A East Conference loss for the Panthers after losing last week to Fort Smith Southside. Cabot is now 5-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play.

Junior Jacob Dills leads the boys’ side for Cabot, and was the only winner against the Tigers on Monday with an 8-2 victory. Behind him, junior Tyler Majors dropped his match 0-8, and the doubles teams found the challenge to be equally difficult.

The team of Seth Smith and Logan Surdam lost 1-8, while Logan Kiihnl and Ben Baldwin lost 2-8. In the third boys’ doubles game, the team of Richie Tennessee and Seth Smith lost 0-8.

The results were mixed on the girls’ side with Lady Panthers’ ace Emma Baird going down in a close 7-9 decision. Sophomore Charl Young won 8-4 while Reagan Allgood took an 8-3 victory over the Lady Tigers. Ellen McKinnie rounded out singles play for the Lady Panthers with another close 7-9 loss.

In doubles play, Molly Wood and Kristen Sumler won 8-5 while the sophomore twin duo of Tori and Lexi Weeks lost 5-8. Grayson Broyles and Amanda Brucks also fell 5-8 before the team of Vanessa Weilding and Jordan Slayden capped off the match with an 8-4 victory for Cabot.

Despite the recent setbacks, the Panthers have enjoyed early success with wins over local rivals Vilonia, Beebe and Bryant, as well as East victories against Fort Smith Northside and North Little Rock.

“It has been a good season,” Cabot interim coach Kelly Baird said. “I have been very impressed. They have been willing to try new ways of doing things, and wanting to learn new things. They have been very receptive.”

It is Baird’s first year of coaching in the Cabot program. Baird, a life-long player herself, was brought in to be an assistant to Mary Emily Nash, but with Nash out for the entire year on maternity leave, the complexion of the season drastically changed before it even arrived for the Panthers. Baird said the group did not let those changes affect their preparation during the offseason.

“During the summer, they were begging me to come out twice a day,” Baird said. “They had an eagerness to get going. My goal for them is not about winning and losing, it’s about making tennis a life-long sport for all of them. Just putting that passion into it, because you can play tennis forever.”

With a mix of 16 girls and seven boys on the squad, Baird noted an obvious imbalance. Tennis has enjoyed a significant boost in interest and participation in the local area over the last few years, particularly with females.

“I think it’s more so with the girls,” Baird said. “With the boys, you’ve got football and all these other sports to compete with, but I would definitely like to see more boys come out for it.”

The Panthers will host Conway on Thursday.