Fling Preview: UC athletes, Rebel tennis player to challenge for state titles
By KEVIN WEAKS
Winning a state championship is difficult.
Numerous tennis and track athletes from Union City, and Obion Central tennis player Olin Johnson, hope to be up to the challenge.
The 30th TSSAA Spring Fling, which will crown state champions in seven sports, will begin Tuesday at various venues in Murfreesboro, and a sizable local contingent will look to bring home some gold trophies.
Union City will compete in 11 events at the Class A boys’ and girls’ state track meet Tuesday at Dean Hayes Stadium.
At the Adams Tennis Complex, the Union City girls’ team will try to claim a state championship, while UC will also play for state titles in boys’ and girls’ doubles. Johnson will play in the boys’ singles finals.
Union City can make some noise in both meets with a strong possibility of winning state championships in individual events.
Katana Bonds and Debrionna Jones have the second-best sectional performances in the triple jump and shot put events, respectively.
Bonds had a jump of 34 feet, 1.75 inches at the sectional round, a distance that checks in just below the effort of Averyuna Beckley of East Nashville. Beckley tops the field coming in with a distance of 35-3.5.
Jones, meanwhile, qualified for the state with a sectional throw of 34 feet, 10.25 inches. That mark is second only to Reese Beaty of York Institute, who comes in with a 40-1.75 in the sectional round.
Jones had the third-best discus throw, her sectional toss of 106 feet checking in behind Beaty (113-1) and Rilee Jo Gardner of Watertown (108-7).
Bonds will also compete in the long jump, where her sectional leap of 16 feet, seven inches ranks fifth entering the state meet, just a fraction behind Kieley Smith of South Greene. The top leap is 17-4.5, posted by Alyssa Raymond of Memphis East.
Ada Rogers, who competed in the state pentathlon last week, will run in the 300-meter hurdles. Her sectional time of 52.62 seconds ranks eighth entering the state meet, just over six seconds behind Alcoa’s Anna Kate Baumann (46.53).
On the boys’ side, Kameron Shade will give the Tornadoes three shots at state titles as he will compete in the 100 and 200 meter runs and join Malaki Brooks, Andre Small and Adrian Crawford in the 4×400 relay.
Shade’s 100 qualifying time of 11.04 is third overall in a field topped by Alcoa’s Jordan Harris (10.83), while his 200 qualifier of 22.53 ranks fourth with Harris (21.44), the leader there, too.
The 4×00 team ranks fourth entering the state with a qualifying time of 3:36.05. Tyner Academy has the top time at 3:31.98.
Keaten Brown will compete in the shot and discus events.
His qualifying throw 43 feet in the shot put ranks sixth coming in, just over two feet behind leader Karsten Jackson of MASE (45-11), while his heave of 126-7 in the discus ranks seventh in a field led by Hank Fisher of Milan (146-1). Fisher is the son of former University of Tennessee football player John Fisher.
Kolby Craig qualified for the state meet in the long jump with a distance of 20 feet, 10.25 inches. That mark ranks sixth entering the state finals, well within striking distance of leader Larry Hampton of Trezevant (22 feet 2.5 inches).
The Lady Tornadoes begin team play as part of a state tournament field that looks similar to the year before.
In addition to UC, defending state champion Summertown and Watertown return. Joining the field is University School-Johnson City, which has several members of the Unicoi County team that participated in the state tourney last spring.
Shelby Bondurant, Molly Kizer and Davey Frankum return from last year’s group that played in the state tournament last season, joined by Dani Frankum and Bertie Jenkins.
Summertown returns five of its top six players from last year (Gracie Kelly, Libby Konig, Emma Perry, Hope Jones and Annalee Kelly), while Watertown returns just one player (Summer Sesnan) who saw action in the state tourney last spring.
Three juniors on this season’s US-JC team — Lily Mefford, Jordan Havert and Kaylee DeGennaro — played for Unicoi last year. University is playing tennis for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Both semifinal matches will be played at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and the title match is slated for 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The singles and doubles state tournaments begin at the same location on Thursday, and all local entrants will play at 9 a.m.
In the Class A boys’ singles tournament, OC’s Johnson will face Meigs County senior Chris Plaster. It will mark the first state tournament appearance for both.
Tobias Mandeville, a junior from Merrol Hyde, is back to defend his singles state title and would face Johnson in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Thursday, should both win their quarterfinal matches.
Ethan Porterfield, a junior from CSAS and state runner-up last year, heads up the other half of the bracket.
UC’s Gavin Pledge and Charleton Wisener will compete in the Class A boys’ doubles tournament, where a new state champion will be crowned.
The Twister twosome, each a senior, will face Watertown juniors Blake Myer and Ben Purnell in the quarterfinals.
Sam Frank and Carter Terry of Fairview, semifinalists last year, head up the other side of the bracket.
UC’s Bondurant and Kizer will battle for a Class A girls’ doubles crown, beginning their quest against Meigs County juniors Macey Bunch and Connleigh Irwin.
Chester County’s Cecily Davis and Grace Compton, who trailed Bondurant and Kizer in the sectionals on Thursday when UC clinched the team win, will face Bindi Patel and Brooke Martin of Signal Mountain in the other quarterfinal match at the top of the bracket.
The bracket is filled with players who have state tournament experience.
In addition to her run with the Lady Tornadoes last year, Bondurant teamed with Annie Wade to reach the doubles semifinals in 2021.
Summertown’s Gracie Kelly teamed with Ella Konig to win the doubles title last year and is back with Annalee Kelly as her partner. Sophia Ramirez of White House is back with a new partner, Mackenzie Jenkins, after reaching the state tourney with Lauryn Ramirez last year. And, Mefford was the singles state runner-up last year.
All four teams in the team state tourney have players in the doubles tournament as well.
Sports editor Kevin Weaks can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.