Jaguars play well against Hoover as postseason nears

HOOVER – With the postseason approaching, Spain Park tennis coach Amber Lewis was encouraged by her teams’ performances in a match against crosstown rival Hoover on Tuesday, April 3.

The SPHS boys won, 7-2, and the girls lost, 5-4, but there were positives to take away even in defeat, Lewis said, including a gutsy tiebreak win by Emma Grace Hanna to conclude the competition.

“I want to see them be mentally strong,” Lewis said, and the Jaguars have displayed the mental strength and talent necessary to compete for a state championship.

The girls team’s record is 8-7 after the Hoover match, a year removed from a state tournament appearance but also losing its top two players to graduation.

The boys, meanwhile, are 11-3, including the program’s first win over section foe Mountain Brook since 2007, when the Jags won their only state championship.

“We’ve got some senior leadership at the 3 and 4 spot, and some really strong freshmen that have stepped up,” Lewis said. “I think we will really be in a position to make a mark the next few years.”

But opponents should not overlook the Jaguars this year. Their only losses so far are to a strong Vestavia Hills squad and two non-section teams, Auburn and Briarwood.

The boys and girls teams will have a chance to earn a spot in the state tournament when they compete in the section tournament on April 16 (girls) and April 17 (boys).

The section tournaments will be hosted by Spain Park High School and also utilize the courts at neighboring Berry Middle School.

The top two teams will advance to the state tournament.

With the exception of girls state champs Huntsville in 2015, the boys and girls state champions in the state’s largest classification has come out of Spain Park’s section each year of the program’s existence.

“Just getting there is a pretty big deal,” Lewis said about the state tournament, which this year will be played April 23-24 at Lagoon Park in Montgomery.

The top players at the No. 1 position can also qualify for state individually.

The Jaguars visit Jasper High School on April 4 and Northridge on April 9, then will spend the rest of the time leading up to the section tournaments “working out the kinks,” Lewis said.

The season can be grueling when considering the work many players put in on their own and their academic commitments.

So, the players were encouraged to spend time away from the tennis court during spring break, Lewis said, and the result was a rejuvenated performance against Hoover.

Boys winners were Ryan Stafford at No. 1 singles, Jake Wilson at No. 2, Riley Hiers at No. 4, Matthew Kendrick at No. 5, John Kendrick at No. 6, Wilson and Hiers at No. 2 doubles, and the Kendrick twins at No. 3 doubles.

Girls winners were Sydney Ellison at No. 1 singles, Riley Ford at No. 3, Hanna at No. 5, and Ellison and Ford at No. 1 doubles.

After the match, which was celebrated as senior night because it was the final home regular season competition, the players enjoyed an impromptu game of “tennis baseball” on the courts and then went to dinner together with their families.

“They’re a fun team,” Lewis said. “They make coaching enjoyable.”