The KHSAA state tennis tournament gets underway on Thursday with a couple coverage area players set to make the trail to Lexington.
Mason County’s Tessa Gray opens up girls singles play with LaRue County’s Karrington Donahue on Thursday at 9:15 a.m. The Lady Royals doubles team of Haley White and Mallory Conrad face McCracken County’s Emily Dew and Isabella McKinney on Thursday at 11:45 a.m.
The St. Patrick brothers duo of Logan and Evan Kalb open up boys doubles play with Knott County Central’s Austin Hesston and Bryson Honeycutt.
The tournament takes place at two seperate locations Thursday through Saturday. Gray, White/Conrad will open up at the University of Kentucky tennis complex while the Kalb’s start at Shilito Park. With rain predicted in the forecast over the next few days, a backup plan in place would put the girls’ tournament indoors at the Lexington Tennis Club while the boys would play indoors at Top Seed Tennis Club in Nicholasville.
“That’s just par for the course this season,” Mason County coach Matt Jolley said.
The first two rounds take place on Thursday with the Round of 16 and quarterfinals on Friday and the semis and championship to follow on Saturday.
Gray enters as the back-to-back 10th Region champ and looks to do something that’s alluded her the previous years…get past the second round. If the University of the Cumberlands signee gets by Donahue, she’ll have a tough matchup if North Oldham’s Katie Beavin wins. Beavin enters as the No. 5 seed in the tournament, despite being just a freshman. Gray’s experience in the tourney should help, making her fourth straight appearance as a singles player.
“It helps a lot. Tessa’s played in big matches, it helps that she hasn’t played just high school tennis. She plays year round, with USTA tourneys and been in the finals in those tourneys,” Jolley said. “I think just her overall amount of matches is going to help her a lot.”
The senior is 3-0 in first round play at state. Last year, Gray advanced to the second round match by defeating Lee County’s Ellen Jennings easily, 6-0, 6-0. She’d then drop the second round match to Sacred Heart’s Ella Rueff of Sacred Heart, was, 6-1, 6-0. In 2016, she advanced past the first round with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Russell County’s Kaylie Polston, before falling in the second round to Highlands’ Lexi Herman, 6-3, 6-1. In 2015, Gray lost to Graves County’s Emily Whitnell, 6-2, 6-3, in the second round, after coming away with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Metcalfe County’s Konnor Gallagher in the round of 64.
“Clay Boone called me last night and me being a first-year coach, I don’t really know these kids that are in the draw. Tessa has played her (Beavin) before, if I’m not mistaken I believe she’s beaten her before. Her familiarity would help a lot. I feel like she got a pretty good draw in the first round. I’ll definitely be trying to find Beavin’s match to get an idea and try to strategize and set up a scouting report,” Jolley said. “Tessa is hitting the ball really well. Her goal is to make it to the third round and go from there. It’s her last shot, she knows it’s her last shot. Last year she got a little nervous, got a little tight, over hit at some times and didn’t work the point. She’s came a long way since then. She had a tough match in the regional final and had to battle. That match was good for her to have someone push her.”
Gray has yet to lose a match this season.
White and Conrad were unable to defend their 10th Region doubles crown from a season ago after dropping a hard fought match in the championship last Monday to Harrison County’s Melody and Sara Dunaway, 4-6, 6-4, 11-9. The two will now set their sights on getting past the first round, something they were unable to do last year.
“They’re going to have a little tougher road. That’s a tough region to go against on who they play. I’ve just told them to not go out scared, don’t be nervous and just have fun. They’ve been here before,” Jolley said.
The Kalb brothers will be making their first state appearance and one in quite some time for the school.
“They’re very excited and looking forward to it. Looking ahead, if they do win in the first round, they have an idea of who they might play in the second round against some buddies from Lexington they play in tournaments,” St. Patrick coach Betsy Kalb said.
The Kalb’s were able to qualify for the state tournament with round of 16 and quarterfinal wins in the regional tourney before falling to the Campbell County duo of Chris Fox and Mason Nieses, 6-1, 6-2. The two have only lost twice this season, both to Fox and Nieses.
The two honed their skills over the past week leading into the tourney to bring their confidence up.
“The key is keeping up their confidence in their serving and strong play at the net,” Betsy Kalb said.
The Kalb’s enter the tourney 10-2 on the season.