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Tennis players fall short of region tournament

Dalton Spears hits a forehand during the district tournament on Friday, May 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)
Dalton Spears hits a forehand during the district tournament on Friday, May 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

The members of Unicoi County High School tennis teams would not go down without a fight during the postseason.

Blue Devil Dalton Spears and the doubles team of Christian Leon and Sam Murillo qualified for the semifinals of the District 1-A/AA individual tournament at Milligan College Friday, May 6, but ultimately fell just a game shy of punching a ticket to the regional tournament.

“They all played very well Friday,” UCHS head coach Jonathan Kenny said. “Dalton has seen Nate Barrett before and played him very tough.”

Spears provided stability to an experienced Blue Devil crew this season from his No. 1 individual spot and worked with his teammates in various tandems during the regular season for doubles.

“I knew he has a big first serve,” Spears said of Barrett on Friday. “I had to take it as it came and do my best of blocking it. Other than that, he’s a solid player with ground strokes. I got into my own head today, and that happens. I didn’t play as well as I could and he was consistent the entire match.”

Leon and Murillo had their hands full with the No. 1 doubles team of Jared Casteel and Todd Brown of South Greene.

“They played very well,” Kenney said. “They just ran into a tough team out of South Greene that has been consistently strong the entire year.”

While the Blue Devils did not capture any tickets to the regional tournament, the squad wrapped up a solid 2016 season. After working with a new core of players last season, UCHS concluded the year with runner-up honors in District 1-A/AA.

“This was a big year for the guys,” Dalton said. “We were very new last year and this year we finished second in the conference with a lot of big wins. It was a very fun year.”

The Blue Devils will lose Spears, Carter Powers and Hunter Wright next year, but Kenney likes what he sees in store for the Blue Devils and Lady Devils.

“Christian and Sam will lead our boys next year,” he said. “They were in the districts last year and were put out in the first round, so they keep getting better each year. We’ve also got Trent (Treadway) coming back, who had a very solid district tournament for us.

“Our girls were very young this year, but I’m very excited to see what they can do next year after having a full year of tennis under their belts.”

As far as Spears is concerned, the leader will be rooting his former teammates next year following graduation.

“I’m excited to see what they’ll do next year,” he said of the Blue Devil and Lady Devil teams. “I think both teams have a very good chance to have successful seasons.”