Canes cruise into 1st Final 4 since 2005
Since winning the state championship in 2005, the Cartersville girls tennis program has been unable to overcome the obstacle known as the Elite Eight.
The Canes have had little trouble, particularly in recent years, reaching the quarterfinals. Cartersville’s match against Eastside Thursday at Dellinger Park marked the fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance for the program.
Each of the three previous trips, the Canes came up short of the semifinals. But buoyed by a youth movement, which includes no seniors in this year’s starting lineup, Cartersville finally cleared the hurdle with a dominant 3-0 win.
“They wanted to win today,” Canes head coach Brett Tolbert said. “They knew, the last three times we made it to the Elite Eight, we haven’t won. They wanted to be the first team to jump over that hump since 2005. That was their driving force and their motivation.”
It was clear from the opening few games that Cartersville was in the driver’s seat. The Canes wound up sweeping all five opening sets at either 6-0 or 6-1.
The Line 1 doubles team of Mia Shaw and Mason Cline, as well as Line 3 singles player Chloe Satterfield each finished off 6-1, 6-0 matches. After not dropping a game in the first set, Line 2’s Emily Bush faced a little more resistance in her second set. The sophomore still wound up with a 6-0, 6-3 victory.
Like with Bush’s match, Eastside put up much more resistance in the second sets on Line 1 singles and Line 1 doubles. Cartersville’s Ashley Popham was pulled from her match with a 5-4 lead in the second set. Meanwhile, the pairing of Alice Terry and Lydia Wiedetz was tied 5-5 in the second set, when Satterfield completed her match to clinch the overall team win.
“The final game, I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that that was the end of the matches,” Satterfield said. “But it felt really good to know that I helped out the team and contributed to our win.”
Despite having had a week between its Sweet 16 victory over Flowery Branch and Thursday’s quarterfinal match, Cartersville looked as though it was in rhythm from the opening serve.
The freshmen doubles team of Cline and Shaw said the team’s work in practice over that span kept the Canes sharp.
“We practiced like crazy in between,” Cline said. “We didn’t really have any off days. I think that was really important.”
Added Shaw, “He put Mason and I through drills to help us with our weaknesses that he notices during matches. I think it really helped.”
While Cartersville is certainly focused on the immediate future, which includes a Monday matchup against North Oconee for a spot in the title game, it’s impossible not to get caught thinking about just how good the Canes could be next year.
“It’s hard to put into words the excitement I have for the future,” Tolbert said. “The future is going to be very bright for us. Next week, we’re probably going to face a team that’s the best we’ve seen since I’ve been here. More than likely, it will be North Oconee, three-time state champs. We’ll get to see the level of tennis we are trying to get to. We’ll find our what we’re made of; we’ll see how we compare with them and how we compete with them; and we’ll go from there. I’m just ready to play.”
Tolbert’s players likewise are thrilled to see what they could possibly achieve down the road. Popham and Wiedetz are juniors; Satterfield and Terry are sophomores; and the rest of the lineup is freshmen.
“We’re going to come back and win it,” Bush said of next season’s state championship. “We’re going to do it.”
But just like their coach, Bush reiterated that they’re not satisfied with making the Final Four this year.
“We’ve worked very hard for this,” the freshman said, “so we’re ready to come and win our next match.”
It’s going to be a tall task, to be certain. North Oconee has been virtually unstoppable in winning three consecutive state titles.
Cartersville has already achieved more this season than almost anyone could have anticipated, but the Canes won’t rest on their laurels in pursuit of a berth in the championship match.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a tradition to uphold,” Tolbert said. “The Elite Eight is a standard. I told them before the match, ‘That’s not what we want. We want to be better than the standard. We want to go as far as we can go.’ That will be our driving force from this point on. …
“Words can’t say how excited and proud I am of this team. The future is so bright, and I look forward to the next couple of years with them. But Monday is the next match, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”