FLOWERY BRANCH -- Making history is rarely easy -- just ask North Hall's Jeffrey Kiser.
As Kiser also discovered, however, history is also worth every ounce of sweat -- and the Trojans tennis standout worked up a lot of it en route to a three-set win over Buford's Nicholas Becker on Thursday.
The marathon battle provided the clinching point in a 3-2 win over the Wolves that yielded the Trojans' first ever Region 7-AAA tournament title. The victory also gave North Hall some revenge for Thursday's girls championship match that saw Buford claim a 3-0 win.
"As long as I've been at North Hall Buford has been the team to beat, so this is pretty cool," said Kiser, who found another level in the third set.
After winning the opening set 6-4 and watching Becker charge back late in the second to split honors at 7-5, North Hall's No. 1 singles player left no doubt in the deciding set, surging to a 6-2 victory
"I just figured out the strategy I needed," said Kiser, who had dropped a three-set match to Becker earlier in the season. "I had to be more consistent and more aggressive."
It was a situation that North Hall coach Bob Woodward said suited the sophomore perfectly.
"He thrives on the spotlight," Woodward said. "He absolutely pulled that out. Everybody played well today. We knew it was going to be tough, and we knew it would be close. But everybody kept their focus."
It was hard to turn away from any of Thursday's boys finale, as the Trojans and Wolves traded body blows in prize fight manner -- North Hall's Matt Booth and Paxton Gillespie combining to claim the No. 1 doubles point in a 6-0, 6-0 blitz before Buford's Skyler Wilson answered with a 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 2 singles.
North Hall's Dalton Patterson regained the edge for the Trojans with a 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 3 singles, setting the stage for some nip-and-tuck finishes at No. 1 singles and No. 2 doubles.
The Wolves' Katriel Barcourt and Giovanni Mejia put all the pressure back on the Trojans with a 6-0, 2-6, 6-3 win -- sending every fan in attendance scurrying to find sitting space around the No. 1 singles finale. But the added vigilance seemed to strengthen Kiser, who cruised to the win.
"Having all these young kids you never know what's going to happen, but they continue to surprise me," said Woodward, whose team contains no seniors. "This is just incredible."
Buford's girls played some pretty incredible tennis of their own on Thursday. And after battling through the opening games, the Lady Wolves kicked things into gear late in the first set, as their No. 1 and 2 singles and No. 1 doubles team jumped out to early leads.
Buford then held its nerve to make those leads stick, with Savannah Whaley and Abbey Mitchell picking up the first match point of the day at No. 1 doubles in a 6-2, 6-1 win.
Bailey McCammon then made it 2-0 with a 6-1, 6-2 win over North Hall's Courtney Barnes at No. 2 singles. Moments later Buford's Annalea Stevens completed the sweep, knockimg off Natalie Oxley 6-2, 6-2.
"I'm proud of the way they came out and didn't take anything for granted," said Buford girls coach Kelly DeLoach, whose Lady Wolves went undefeated through the region season and nabbed their second straight 7-AAA crown without dropping a set at the tournament. "They played well under pressure today."
A young Buford team hopes this is just the start of something big.
"We'd never won region until last year, and now we've got two in a row," DeLoach said. "And most of our players are young."
Buford reached the Class AAA quarterfinals last season and will hope to improve on that feat this year, though they know it won't be easy.
"We've got our work cut out, but these girls are motivated and are ready," DeLoach said.
North Hall coach Patricia Zaudtke couldn't have said it much better, and while the Lady Trojans were disappointed to finish runner-up for the second straight year, Zaudtke sees big things ahead for her players.
"I was going to retire after this year but all my players are juniors and sophomores, and I just don't want to leave them yet," Zaudtke said. "They're amazing girls, and I want to try it one more time.
"It's a growing process, but we're gaining momentum, and given day they can pull it off -- it just wasn't our day today."
Zaudtke put the growth of the program on the shoulders of community coach Betsy Kiser and a supportive parent group.
"They're tremendous and do so much of the work that has got this program going," Zaudtke said.
-- NOTES: The Banks County boys and girls tennis teams each captured No. 3 seeds, the Lady Leopards defeating Dawson County 3-0 and the Leopards sweeping White County 3-0. ... The four teams from Region 7-AAA that played today in each bracket will advance to face the top four teams from Region 5-AAA in the first round of the state playoffs next week.