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Wallingford’s Lady Indians eye another run at state title

By JEFF BIRCHFIELD • Mar 30, 2019 at 7:54 PM

KINGSPORT — Coming off a state tournament appearance and off to a strong start, high expectations surround the Dobyns-Bennett girls tennis team.

The Lady Indians reached the state semifinals last year, where they lost to eventual champion Brentwood. The D-B team of Willa Rogers and Lainey Hill advanced to the finals in doubles.

“We have all our players back so we want to make another run at a state title this year,” coach Sara Wallingford said. “The top six have all experienced state-level play and they know what’s expected of them. We’re excited for the season and we have Science Hill and Tennessee High coming up, so that’s going to be a fun April.”

Rogers, a sophomore and the sister of former D-B standout Josie Rogers, plays at No. 1. She boasts an all-around game that makes her an extremely tough matchup.

“Willa is just a phenomenal player and the girl works so hard,” Wallingford noted. “She has great mechanics and has such a great mindset about tennis strategy. She’s aggressive, a tough, tough player.”

Hill, a senior playing at No. 2, is at the same level as Rogers, Wallingford said. Hill has a strong return game, particularly her backhand.

“She has an incredible game. I’m excited for her this year as she gets prepared to play college tennis,” Wallingford said. “Both of the top two players are hard workers who play all the time. They have given a lot of their lives to tennis and it’s made them two tough players.”

Sophomores fill out Nos. 3-5.

Wallingford called Sydney Berry at No. 3 a really tough player. Another sophomore, Emily Cai, whose only loss last year came in the state semifinals, plays at No. 4, and Chanda Bhat has moved up to No. 5.

Kendall Jackson, a freshman transfer from Kentucky, plays at No. 6. There are other girls Wallingford can interchange at the lower seeds.

Four other seniors — Molli Hopkins, Tailin Postema, Elise Rogers and Catarina Travassos — also can contribute.

Wallingford has been successful taking the individual strengths of the girls and molding them into a formidable team. She believes the pieces are there to do the same with the boys’ team.

Seth Thomas, a junior, is the Tribe’s No. 1 player on the boys’ side. Boasting a big serve and a strong forehand, Thomas also is a student of the game.

“He’s pretty impressive. He mixes the ball with a lot of pace,” Wallingford said. “He’s strategic when he plays. He doesn’t just go hit the ball back and forth. He has a plan against the better players and he watches their patterns. He has all good strokes and a good all-around game.”

Luke Morris plays at No. 2 on the junior-heavy team. Morris doesn’t like to sit back in a match, preferring to use his quick reflexes to attack the net.

“He has a great net game, great hands,” Wallingford said. “He definitely will keep on improving this year.”

Ben Allen, an experienced player despite being a freshman, should give the Indians some pop out of the No. 3 position. Wallingford praises the dedication of sophomore Cole Ridings, at No. 4, to the game.

The lone senior, Omkar Bhat at No. 5, presents problems for opponents with his fast pace and is a steady player.

There are plenty of options at No. 6, which has been manned by Mason Robinette and Matthew Frye during the early matches. Others are Jake Smith, Kendrick Tate and Vincent Gould.

Wallingford believes the Indians have the depth to compete with the top teams.

“It’s often not about your No. 1, No. 2 or even the No. 3 spot. You win matches at 4, 5 and 6,” Wallingford said. “Teams that have depth are the teams that win. We’re trying to improve those players’ game as much as the top players who work on their game all the time.”

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