JONESBORO, Ga. -- One of the Columbus tennis players approached coach Betsy Zachry, gave her a hug and handed her an envelope. It was a birthday card signed by all the boys on the team. Twenty minutes earlier they had serenaded her with a version of “Happy Birthday” on the courts of the Clayton County International Park Tennis Center.
But the boys had one other gift for their coach. Before she could say “thank you” for the card, three others snuck up behind Zachry and dumped a cooler full of water on her head. She screamed a little, but didn’t seem to mind. Funny how a state championship can even make a cold-water dousing seem OK.
The Columbus boys had plenty of reason to celebrate. They had beaten Madison County 3-1 to win the Class AAAA championship. It is believed to be the school’s first tennis championship since 1953.
Columbus lost at No. 1 singles, where Ellis Bunn was beaten by Madison County’s Trey Morris 6-1, 6-4. But the Blue Devils won both doubles matches to take a 2-1 lead. The No. 1 team of Ryan Gordon and Rob Monfort beat Madison’s Adam Sartain and Zach Peneguy 6-1, 6-1, while the No. 2 team of Arnav Patel and Andrew Bray turned back Madison’s Koti Nguyen and Hank Sartain 6-0, 7-5.
The match was decided when Parker Bray came back after losing the first set 6-1 to take the second set 6-1 and win the final 6-4 to set off a wild celebration and marathon victory photo session.
“I just wanted to close it out,” said Bray, who frittered away two match points before finally sealing the deal. “I started thinking about it too much. I just told myself to relax and finish it.”
The win left the Blue Devils with a 20-6 record, although two of the losses were to Class AAAAAA runner-up North Cobb and Class AAAAA runner-up Union Grove. Columbus rolled through the playoffs with a 5-0 win over Stephens County, a 3-2 win over mighty Marist, a 3-0 win over LaGrange and a 4-1 semifinal victory over Spalding.
The championship is the completion of a journey that Zachry started four years ago when she became the head coach and inherited a group of young players that appeared to have a lot of talent.
“You could tell back then that they had a lot of potential,” she said. “It all came together this year. We’ve been close before. We’ve made the playoffs every year, but we weren’t able to win the decisive set. This year we started do that.”
Gordon said the championship is the culmination of a lot of hard work and effort.
“I knew we had a chance,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of fighters on this team. I knew we had a pretty good chance to pull it out.”