By Paul Henry, Staff Writer
Anyone thinking an eighth grader from Fayetteville City couldn’t win a TSSAA A/AA girls’ tennis title in the Blue Cross Spring Fling failed to get that message to Skylar McDonald.
The young Tiger won her way through the field of upperclassmen competition, defeating a senior and two sophomores.
McDonald entered the state with an impressive 72-3 games won vs. games lost record for the season.
“We couldn’t be more proud for Skylar,” said FHS Athletic Director Frank Stevens. “Skylar has a remarkable talent on the tennis court and is just as remarkable in all aspects as a student.
“It’s our final day of school today (Friday),” Stevens added. “It’s a great finish to our first school year of our program.”
Skylar defeated Mallory Jackson, a left-hander from Unicoi County, in the championship game, 6-2, 6-3.
After starting down, 0-2, she battled back and took the next six games.
Jackson opened the second set with a win. Skylar came back, regaining the lead, 3-1. Jackson won two more games, and McDonald was up, 4-3.
In the fifth game, Skylar broke Jackson’s serve and held her serve in the sixth game for the 6-3 win.
Skylar advanced to the championship with a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 win over Murfreesboro’s Carley Hatcliff in the semifinals. The state title was probably decided with the two best players meeting in the semis.
“Skylar went out and executed our game plan well,” said Coach Jonathan Brown, “especially with her match with Carley Hatcliff from Murfreesboro. She controlled the points with her forehand and moved Hatcliff around the court.
“I was very pleased with her start and her focus to details,” continued Coach Brown. “The momentum shifted in the second set. Hatcliff found another gear and hit forehand winners from all part of the court.”
In the third set, Skylar jumped out early with a 4-1 lead. In this match, nothing was secure. Hatcliff came back and tied it at 4-4 and was up 40-Love. Skylar battled back to Duece at 4-4. In high school tennis, the Deuce point is a “winner take all.” After a long rally, Skylar hit a forehand winner to take the lead, 5-4.
“That game was huge for Skylar,” added Coach Brown. “If we lose that game, the match and momentum were gone, and it was probably over.”
Skylar held her serve in the final set to finish with the 6-4 win.
“In my mind, I watched the state finals in the semifinals,” Coach Brown continued. “I couldn’t be more pleased with Skylar’s performance.
“We’ve been talking about this moment for the last six years since I started working with her,” he added. “Moments like today are why I take off work, give lessons in the summer and support athletics.”
McDonald advanced through the first round with a convincing 6-1, 6-3 win over East Hamilton’s senior, Taylor Johnson.
“Johnson was a perfect first round match for us,” continued Brown. “She hit a tons of balls back, but Skylar stepped up to another level and got through the match. Johnson played well enough it was good in preparing for Hatcliff.”