Had coach Joe Soley not only made his players run and do agility drills, their marathon playoff run likely would’ve been nothing more than a short sprint. A team equipped with underclassmen — with the exception of one senior — the Lady Buccaneers won many matches by outlasting their opponents.
“He has us running lines (at practice) so we can last longer in games,” doubles player Allison Whitley said. “He also has us run laps.”
Soley said agility drills helped the tennis players move easier in the direction of the ball and last much longer on court. That held true even when temperatures reached the upper 80s toward the end of the season.
“Tennis is all about the quickness of the feet, and some of our girls are very slow at the process,” said Soley, the 2012 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Tennis Coach of the Year. “The one thing that I did get afforded at the end was that the girls worked hard throughout the season. Even though they didn’t like to work out, they appreciated that I took the time out for conditioning.”
The Lady Buccaneers were grateful in the end. It took endurance for them to knock off defending state champion Woodward Academy in the Class AAA state quarterfinals, winning 3-2 in a match that lasted well over three hours.
Once again, Allatoona had another marathon match against Richmond Academy in the state semifinals, and it took the Lady Buccaneers another three hours to win by another 3-2 margin.
“(The conditioning) obviously showed in the playoffs,” Soley said.
Not only did Allatoona go 23-2 this year, but it defended its Region 7AAA title and was ranked No. 1 in the state going into the final week of the season.
Soley had other ways of getting his team motivated before matches. Not only was he good at easing his players’ nerves during changeovers. He came up with the appropriate motivational quote that encouraged the Lady Buccaneers to be aggressive and go for their shots.
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” Allatoona ace player Kennedy Craig repeated with ease.
Craig finished with a 22-2 record and won a pair of those marathon matches to help put the Lady Buccaneers in the finals.
Allatoona seemed to be at a disadvantage when it took the court against St. Pius X in the finals, particularly Craig, who was the cause of Allatoona’s lengthy victories in the earlier rounds of the postseason.
She helped clinch Allatoona’s final point against Richmond Academy in a three-set come-from-behind victory. She also won a come-from-behind three-setter a week earlier in the quarterfinals against Woodward Academy.
Though The Lady Buccaneers were given an hour to cool down after the semifinal against Richmond Academy, it wasn’t enough. They found themselves back on court against a St. Pius X team that had been off the court for roughly three times as long.
While St. Pius outplayed Allatoona at No. 2 doubles, the Lady Buccaneers’ remaining players still provided a battle.
St. Pius’ players clinched the win, and the state title, by beating Craig and Olivia Howe in a pair of three-set matches that ended about 5 minutes apart.
Had either Craig or Howe prevailed, then the match may have taken a totally different course. Allatoona was winning at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles when the match was called.