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Friday, April 15, 2011 - 11:02am

Tennis Favorites Prepare for State Playoffs

The GHSA State Tennis Playoffs begin the weekend of April 22, and there are a host of teams across the state and all classifications thinking they have a chance to win some silverware. The metro area boasts plenty of the postseason favorites, with a few returning champions among them looking to repeat. Meanwhile, others look to assert their presence in the tennis world with their first ever state championship. Clearly, we are in for a wild ride when the playoffs get underway.

At Marist, state championships have become the norm. Head coach Francis Kissel’s girls are a nice example of the Lady War Eagles’ dominance. They won the region title earlier in the week, and the back-to-back state champs head into the state tournament as heavy favorites.
The experienced squad took home a state title last year, beating Bainbridge in the final. This season, they are undefeated, having beaten the likes of Johns Creek, St. Pius X, Westminster, and in convincing fashion. Scarily, this team might be even better than the 2010 squad with increased experience across the board.
“Last year it took a while to mold the team together,” Kissell said. “This year, there really wasn’t much mix and match. We had everyone back.”
Heading up Kissell’s star-studded lineup is Indiana University commit Shannon Murdy. Murdy was one of the state’s top players last season, and has mostly dominated the competition at her No. 1 singles position in 2011.
“Everyone just respects her because she plays so well,” Kissell said. “They look to her for leadership.”
The Lady War Eagles have another Division 1 commit in Creighton-bound Elizabeth Vermillion, who Kissel said would be playing at No. 1 singles for most teams statewide.
The Starr’s Mill boys team are hoping to accomplish a similar feat to Kissel’s team. They won their first ever state championship last year, and hit the tournament trail this weekend ranked No. 6.
Ron Mann’s team lost a close one in the region title to McIntosh. However, that may be a good omen for the Panthers, as they lost by the same score to the Chiefs in last year’s region final before running the table in the state playoffs.
Jonathan Lee is back from last year’s title team, and is one of the top singles players. Ian Lennox also returns from last year to anchor the No. 1 doubles side that won convincingly in last year’s state title victory.
Other returning champions on the girls side include Walton, Woodward Academy and Blessed Trinity. Meanwhile, Alpharetta, BT, and Walker will shoot for back-to-back in the boys bracket.


Class 4A is up for grabs, as defending 3A champ Johns Creek moved up this year, and enter the state tourney ranked No. 1. Pope, Starr’s Mill and undefeated McIntosh will be their main challengers.
Walton and Alpharetta met in last year’s Class 5A state final. They appear to be on a collision course again this year, being ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state, respectively. Walton won the regular season matchup, 3-2. Anish Sharma and freshman Ian Zheng lead the way for the Raiders in singles.
Westlake is an interesting wild card. Not exactly known for their tennis, Herman Fletcher has built a perennial state tournament team over the past few years, and this season they enter the postseason ranked No. 7 after winning their region title.