Friday, August 21, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panther tennis rolls in opener

Leader sportswriter

Cabot High School played host to Beebe in the two teams’ first official tennis match of the year Thursday, and the Panthers and Lady Panthers were stellar in their 2015 debut, winning 18 of the 22 matches played.

“For over 20 matches and to only lose four courts, that’s pretty good,” said Cabot coach Mary Emily Nash. “We’re really excited about how it went. We normally do nonconference matches just to gauge our kids.

“Some of them we’re not sure yet whether they’re going to play doubles or singles, but they all really exceeded my expectations. To have a team that’s mostly made up of juniors, I thought we did very well.”

Team scoring in a high school tennis match is usually decided by combining the outcome of the No. 1 and 2 doubles and singles matches. In the boys’ singles division, Cabot’s Clayton Ellis and Max Mathis won their respective matches.

Ellis beat Beebe’s Chase Underwood 8-5, and Mathis beat Garrett Glynn 8-1. In the top two boys’ doubles matches, Cabot’s Turner Bankston and Bryant Cason beat Beebe’s team of JP Savage and Garret Gardenhire 8-2, while Panther players Parker Gibson and Trey Wagnon beat Beebe’s Braydon Fort and Blake Childress 8-1.

That gave the Cabot boys a 4-0 sweep over Beebe in the official match score.

In the girls’ division, the Lady Panthers finished a match shy of earning a sweep. They officially beat the Lady Badgers 3-1. Cabot’s Emily Sumler won her singles match against Taylor Harris 8-1, and the Lady Panthers’ team of Lauren Roberts and Sadie Lea beat Beebe’s Brienne Jackson and Erin McNully 8-6.

In the No. 2 girls’ doubles match, Carly Carpenter and Julie Hill came out on top over Beebe’s Victoria Tarkington and Katie Pacheco. They won that match 8-5. Beebe’s lone win for the official match score came when the top Lady Badger singles player, Allie Lane, beat Cabot’s Jessica Vaughan 8-5.

Those scores are what counted for the match’s team scores, but Nash was pleased with how her group did as a whole, winning all but four matches.

“They all did really well,” Nash said. “I don’t know that anyone necessarily surprised me, because I have expectations for them to win.”

The match didn’t go as well as Beebe coach Brian Davis would’ve liked, but with it being the first match of the year, and a nonconference one at that, Davis said he used some different combinations among his doubles teams in order to see what combinations would work best.

“My No. 1 girl (Lane) won 8-5,” said Davis. “The rest of my top six (players) had some close losses and some not so close losses. We’re trying new teams together, so the first time you’re playing with a new partner it’s always going to be different.

“I saw enough good stuff out there that I was pleased with. We’ll probably try some of these team-ups again.”

Beebe returns experience on its girls’ team, but the boys, as a team, enter this season with little experience at the varsity level.

“Our girls are mostly all back from last year,” Davis said. “So we kind of knew where we stood there. We lost four of our top six boys from last year to graduation. So we knew we had a lot of stuff there to figure out with the guys – trying to figure out who’s going to play singles, who’s going to play doubles, which doubles teams would work.

“We’ve got a lot of experimenting to do in our next match. If they keep getting better at this rate, I think by the end of the season they’ll be in really good shape.”

Beebe’s schedule this year will be made up almost entirely of nonconference matches. In Beebe’s conference, the 5A-Central, only Beebe and Pulaski Academy have enough participants to form a team, so the Badgers’ and Lady Badgers’ matches this year will be against several different teams, including those in their previous conference, the 5A-East.

“We came from a conference that had eight or nine teams, and it is us and PA,” Davis said. “Our (conference) tournament was us and PA, and one kid maybe from Mills. Our conference tournament used to be two days, now it’s half a day.

“We’ve called a lot of people nearby. We’ll be playing Searcy and Harding Academy and some other local people. We’re playing some of our old rivals. We’re going to Nettleton next week, and Batesville’s coming to us after that.

“Our nonconference schedule is against people we’ve matched up OK with before. It’s competitive. We don’t want to play somebody we know we’re going to roll over or somebody that’s going to roll over us. We want to have good, competitive matches. That’s where we’re going to learn stuff.”

On the flip side, Cabot’s conference has plenty of participants, and plenty of competition, according to Nash. She added, though, that despite the stiff competition within that Class 7A league, she likes her group’s chances.

“Our conference is really, really tough,” Nash said. “We’ll be seeing teams that have been playing since they were 5 and 6 years old. Sometimes that’s hard to compete against, but if anybody can compete against them, this group can.

“We’ve been practicing since May to get ready, so we’re ready to get our reps in.”

Other Cabot players that earned wins in their matches Thursday were, in girls’ singles competition, Olivia New, Kaitlynn Follett, Ryane Thurman and Madeline Chosich. In girls’ doubles, the Lady Panther teams of Vaughan/Ally Bevis and Follett/Thurman won their matches.

Among the Cabot boys, Nathan Ellis, Bryant Cason, Parker Gibson and Wagnon won their singles matches. Besides doubles wins by Bankston/Cason and Gibson/Wagnon, the only other boys’ doubles match of the night was won by the CHS team of Mathis and Nathan Ellis.

For Beebe, Underwood lost his first match of the night, but later rebounded with an 8-5 win over Bankston. For the Beebe girls, other than Lane’s victory, two other Lady Badgers earned wins. Jaycee Hall won a 6-0 match against Cabot’s Chosich, and Noor won an 8-4 decision over Gracie New.

Cabot’s next tennis match will be a nonconference one at Vilonia on Monday at 3:30 p.m. Cabot’s first conference match will be Sept. 3 at home against Little Rock Central.

Beebe’s next match will be the same time on Monday at Searcy. Beebe’s first conference match against Pulaski Academy will be Sept. 10 in Little Rock.