By Anthony Gagliano
VALDOSTA -- The game-winning point had been clinched and the match ended, but Valdosta coach Nancy Hjort couldn't get rid of her goosebumps. For the first time in her 10 years of coaching the Valdosta boys tennis team, the Wildcats were going to the AAAAA state quarterfinals, thanks to a 4-1 win vs. Newnan at McKey Park.
"Other teams were more talented, but they weren't dedicated," Nancy Hjort said. "They wanted it, but not this bad."
A few hours later, Nancy's husband, Frank, and the Valdosta girls' tennis team duplicated the feat, posting their own 4-1 victory against Union Grove to give them their first berth in the Elite Eight.
Frank Hjort had waited even longer. His 25-year coaching career at VHS included an individual state champion in Kim Gandy, but he'd yet to get past the second round since the switch to the team format. But, the Wildcats (18-3) got a huge head start as the mighty doubles pairs of No. 1s Delilah Thomas and Lauren Bahnsen and No. 2s Carly Davis and Jordan Thomas yielded a combined four points in two straight-set victories to deliver a quick 2-0 lead.
However, the key set came at No. 2 singles, where Priscilla Thomas, Delilah's younger sister, broke a 4-4 tie to win 6-4. She went on the attack in the second set, crushing Union Grove's Leslie Emanuele 6-1 to clinch the match.
"Once I was done with the first set, I knew I would win," Priscilla Thomas said. "The first set, sometimes for me, is the toughest."
Union Grove (11-3) won the No. 1 match as Deanna Bailey, the No. 4 16-year-old in the state according to the new USTA rankings released Wednesday, defeated Kristen Tullos, but freshman Jessica Sharp's three-set victory helped end the day on a great note.
"This is the first Valdosta girls team to get past the second round and I'm proud to be a part of it in Kristen and Delilah's senior year," Davis said. "Hopefully, we can overcome another good team and make it to the Final Four."
"There's no words to explain this feeling," Bahnsen said.
The girls quarterfinal opponent will be a familiar one regardless of which team wins today's Starr's Mill and Lowndes match. The Wildcats have five victories against Lowndes this season, while Starr's Mill ended VHS' 2004 season in the second round of the state playoffs.
The boys did most of their damage in singles behind the keen play of top seed Greg Tullos. He dissected his opponent, Justyn Daniell, 6-1, 6-1, while brother Dylan waited for his man to make the mistakes. The pair traded ground strokes in the second set before Dylan won 7-2 in a tiebreaker. No. 2 Parker Childree made it a sweep with a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
"Really, they've gotten better as the season has gone along," Nancy Hjort said. "They've picked up their game because they knew everybody else was. So, it means a lot to them, too."