Columbus faces familiar foein Marist
By DAVID MITCHELL
When the Columbus girls tennis team faced Marist last year, it was in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
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The Lady Blue Devils were a 2 seed and were facing an extremely talented 1 seed, which would go on to win the state title, earlier than they'd have liked.
This year, things are different.
Columbus won its Region 5-AAAA championship, battled for 3-0, 3-2, 4-1 and 3-2 victories through four rounds of the playoffs and set up the rematch they wanted all along: Columbus versus Marist at the Clayton County Tennis Center in Jonesboro with the Lady Blue Devils' first state championship on the line.
"They're excited," Columbus coach MikelAnna Hill said. "And they're working hard. They want to win it all. They've worked hard in practice, and they've had fun talking about the fact that they're in the top two no matter what."
Not that that's enough. They want to win and, more than that, they think they can.
While Marist has cruised through four tournament matches without losing a single individual match, Columbus sees it as a lack of pressure on them.
"We're going in the underdogs, so they probably have more nerves and anxiety than we do," No. 1 singles player Madelyn Boren said.
Hill agreed, saying that they have nothing to lose.
"We focus on the fact that, yes, it's Marist, but these girls are good, too, and they have a desire to win," she said. "At the end of the day, it's whoever plays best that day."
Plus there is the revenge factor.
Sophomore Abby Courville played No. 1 singles as a freshman last season and admittedly had a tough match against Marist. This year, she thinks she has gotten better and, as part of the No. 1 doubles tandem with Elizabeth Steelmon, believes they can surprise some people.
"I had a tough match last year, but I think our team is a lot stronger," she said.
"I really think we've got a good chance."
Steelmon is a freshman and doesn't have a reference point when it comes to Marist, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"I can just go out and focus on myself," she said.
To do it, Hill said, it's going to take execution. If they get a chance to put a point away, they have to do it.
"No second chances," she said.
"They're solid from 1 singles to 2 doubles, so it's going to take us playing the best we can.
"We need to play smart and just execute."
Maddison Abell will compete at No. 2 singles and Mayu Onoe at No. 3 singles for the Lady Blue Devils. Kate Mize and Akshaya Shan will team up at No. 2 doubles.
Mize and Shan are both seniors and, no matter what, will be playing in their final match.
"It's my first time ever being in this kind of situation," Shan said. "It's really exciting."
"If we win or lose, it's still a really cool experience," Mize said.