(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
The Lady Rebels rode the play of their two doubles teams, Holly Dudley/Taylor Boness and Morgan Emery/Katey Campbell, to pile up enough points to take home the team title. It was an all-Riverside championship match as the number one seeded team in the tournament, Emery and Campbell, took on their tenth seeded teammates, Dudley and Boness.
Dudley and Boness were just hoping to get some points for Riverside in the tournament, but showed grit and determination and upset their favored teammates to claim the state doubles title with a hard fought 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Emery and Campbell.
"We really didn't expect this," said Riverside senior Holly Dudley. "We had never beaten the team from Ridgefield before and we had never beaten Katey and Morgan in practice, so this was a big surprise. But Taylor and I worked really hard and we are so excited that we won the team title. We really didn't know what to do after the match. We were in shock. It was kind of hard to celebrate, having knocked out our teammates. But the team title was the most important thing, and that's what we accomplished."
"It feels great to win the championship," said Riverside sophomore Taylor Boness. "We really wanted it bad. It was a tough situation, playing our teammates in the finals. It was awkward, but someone has to win and someone has to lose. You just have to put friendship aside. I am just honored to be a part of it all and to be a part of this team. It's great to contribute to our first state championship."
The top seeded team of Emery and Campbell drew a first round bye before cruising to a win over the Weiner tandem of Bartholomew and Jordan 6-0, 6-2. Campbell and Emery came back in the semi-finals with another straight set win, 6-2, 6-4, over rival East Poinsett County's Carla Kemp and Kelly Sadler to set up an all-Riverside final, guaranteeing the Lady Rebels the team title.
"Katey and Morgan had lost to Sadler and Kemp during the regular season, but they were not going to let that happen again," said Conner. "They were in control of the match from the very beginning."
Kailey Holt, competing in her first state tournament, picked up a first round win, defeating Shelby Beck of Marked Tree, 6-4, 6-0, before falling in the quarter-finals to Greers Ferry Westside's Alisha Bishop, 6-3, 6-1.
"Kailey did an outstanding job, contributing to the team's score by advancing to the quarter-finals," said Conner. "She played extremely well in defeating the number six seed in the opening round before falling to the third seeded Bishop in the quarter-finals."
"The girls team has fought hard and improved greatly during the course of the season," said Conner. "Their hard work paid off with a state championship. I am so proud of all of the girls and the awesome accomplishments they have achieved this year."
The Lady Rebels claimed the team championship with a total of 12 points in defeating second place Ridgefield Christian, who had edged the Lady Rebels in the District Tournament. The Lady Eagles had eight points while third place Union Christian finished with seven.
The Riverside boys finished fourth place in the state tournament, despite fielding a very young team that had no state tournament experience going in.
"We had a very young team with no state experience, yet all of our entries advanced to the quarter-finals," said Conner. "They really did a super job coming together as a team and improving their skills on the court."
In doubles play, Cody O'Guinn and Bryan Poe downed the team of Tinsley and Pope of Smackover 6-0, 6-3 before dropping a hard fought, 6-3, 2-6, 2-6 decision to Union Christian's Lassiter and Meador.
"Bryan and Cody took out a very good Smackover team in the first round by playing some solid tennis," said Conner. "Their second round match with Union Christian was just a slug fest. The guys played unbelievably well, but lost in three hard fought sets."
Riverside's Josh Anderson and Chase Nichols knocked off the fourth seeded team of Walker and Yates of Emerson, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, before falling in the quarter-finals to Barnes and LeBlanc from Little Rock Lutheran 6-1, 6-4.
"Chase and Josh played well defensively and controlled the tempo against a very good fourth seeded team in their opening match," said Conner. "They played some great tennis, but were unable to get by their district foes from Lutheran. The guys worked really hard this year and earned a lot of respect from their opponents."
Daniel McCormick represented the Rebels in singles play and came away with a 6-2, 6-2 straight set victory over Dustin Roberts of Wickes in the opening round. McCormick came up short in the quarter-finals, losing to Geoffrey Synco of Murfreesboro 7-5, 6-1.
"Daniel surprised everyone by winning the district championship and played very well in the state tournament," said Conner. "His quarter-final match with the eventual runner-up was a lot closer than the score indicated. He showed everyone that he deserved to be there."
Union Christian took home the boys title, finishing with 12 points to out-distance second place East Poinsett County, who had seven points. Riverside picked up three points in the tournament.
"As a coach, I couldn't have asked for a better group of young men and women to work with," said Conner. "They gave 100 percent every time they played and were continuously working to improve their game. I can't say enough about how special these athletes are. I know the kids really appreciated the support of the parents and fans at the state tournament. We had one of the largest groups there, and their support really helped the kids play their best. The Riverside parents and fans really came through for us, as they always do with all our sports teams. It was a great experience for the players and our school."