By KEVIN WEAKS
Union City High School has girls who play tennis.
Christian Academy of Knoxville has tennis players.
Elizabeth Miller is not complaining. Far from it, actually. She would, however, like to close the gap between her team and the private school powerhouse.
“It’s hard when you get up here and play kids from a much bigger school who practice year-around,” Miller pointed out. “We come from a small school, and our motto is “we do it all.” And, we really do. We have cheerleaders on the team, we have basketball players on the team, band members. I think I have half my team in the Top 10 academically, and the rest are up there close, too.”
Miller believes an indoor tennis facility would benefit players at all levels and ages groups in Union City and Obion County, noting that the mother of a CAK player told her Knoxville has three such facilities.
Miller knows several of her players are ready to make the extra commitment to better their game, if such a facility was more conveniently located.
“I would never ask any of our players to give up cheering or band, but I have a few girls who would like to commit more time in addition to the other things they do,” Miller said. “We’re talking about kids who are willing to drive with me one night a week to Paducah to work. It’ll take a bigger commitment, but if we want to compete here, that’s what we’ll have to do.”
Miller has to look no farther than her own house to see where some practice year-around can help. She said her husband, Michael Paul Miller, started playing in USTA team leagues in which she participates a couple of years ago.
“My husband is a great example,” she said. “He started two years ago as a 3.0, and his athleticism got him bumped up to a 3.5. He’s been playing year-around, practicing even if it was just one time a week, and now he’s hanging in there with 4.0s. So, you can imagine how it helps those girls who have been doing that since middle school. It’s really different to compete against. But, I think if we could get an indoor facility, it would automatically help our program. There’s no way it couldn’t.”
Tennis is not the only sport where players are coming out of different activities from fall and winter.
The track team rosters are loaded with multi-sport athletes as well. Jackie Hudson, who competed in the discus and shot put last week, was a teammate of tennis player Anna Moore on the Lady Tornado basketball team that advanced to the semifinals of the single-A state tournament in March. DeAndrez Williams, UC’s 400-meter runner at state, has been a member of the football team, which had several other of its players competing on both the track and baseball squads in the spring.
UC girls’ track coach Preston Martin said it takes a commitment not just from the players but the school’s coaching staff, too.
“They are pulled in a lot of different directions,” Martin said of the athletes. “Jackie had offseason workouts and weightlifting for basketball during track season. We all, as coaches, realize we have a limited number of athletes, and we encourage them to compete in everything they want to. Coach (Eddie) Suiter and coach (Nelson) Youngblood were great about letting her off to rest up for a big meet when I asked them. The working relationship between all the coaches in all the sports is really good.”
THANK YOU — For Miller, Martin and boys’ track coach Darren Bowling, there are plenty of “thank yous” to go around for helping their respective athletes make it to the biggest stage in spring sports.
Miller had support from several people who helped out by working with her players both in regularly scheduled practices as well as on their own time.
She mentioned specifically her father Monte Mooney, husband Michael Paul Miller, Judy McBride, Julio Fuentez, Seth Rhenberg and several members of the baseball team, including Clay Treece.
High school principal Wes Kennedy and elementary school principal George Leake, who opened his school for conditioning sessions in the winter, were also on Miller’s thank-you list.
The track program was helped out by several volunteers as well.
With two throwers competing at the Spring Fling, Martin made particular note of the help from two former state champions.
“I owe all the credit to the Jernigans,” Martin said. “Tom and Wright have been working with them since middle school, and all the credit goes to them. As far as technique and mechanics, Mr. Jernigan and Dr. Jernigan are the men, and they deserve a lot of credit because they spend a lot of time with our high school and middle school throwers. Without them, our girls wouldn’t be where they are.”
Tom Jernigan was a state decathlon champion for UC in 1964, while Wright Jernigan won the state shot put and discus titles in 1989.
Jenny Jernigan, now Jenny Guess, was a state discus champion in 1989 and 1990.
NO COMPETITION — Her former teammates might have their own thoughts on the matter, but Miller believes a match between her state runner-up team of 2000 and this season’s state final four team would be no contest.
“My kids are so much better than I was when I played,” said Miller, “They’re mentally stronger, physically better, and its a different game now than it was then. Tennis, as a sport, has gotten better.”
Both teams then and now did some great things to get as far as they did.
This season’s Lady Tornadoes knocked off undefeated Greenfield in the regional finals and then beat Trinity Christian Academy for the second time in the spring in the sectional round en route to finishing with 17-0 team record and a 117-3 mark in singles and doubles matches overall.
Miller, who was Elizabeth Mooney when she donned the UC uniform 12 years earlier, understands the significance of those numbers better now than when she played.
“My dad says we beat a team that was 32-0, hadn’t lost a match in two years, and that they were all crying after we won,” Miller said. “But, I was young and didn’t understand what was going on. I was terrible mentally, too. I’d get in trouble for throwing my racket and yelling … and we saw some of that here this week.”
Miller’s state finals teammates at the 2000 Spring Fling included Betsi Hepler, Lindsay Thomas, Marcy Stringfield and Elizabeth Hudson. UC lost to Chattanooga Christian in the state championship for the second consecutive year.
Published in The Messenger 5.28.12