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Tennis: Gainesville girls muster thrilling comeback to march into quarterfinals

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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GAINESVILLE -- Katherine Wright felt the crowd growing around her, heard the cheers getting louder, and then she realized -- "I knew it was up to me again," the Gainesville girls tennis standout said.

With a quarterfinal berth hanging on the line, the Lady Red Elephants could hardly have scripted a better option.

After clinching region titles with her play the last two seasons, Wright showed she was up to the task at the state level on Monday, claiming a three-set victory to seal a spot in the third round of the postseason and cap a stirring comeback that saw Gainesville down 0-2 before ripping off two doubles victories and Wright's thriller for a 3-2 triumph over Sequoyah.

"I should be getting used to this by now," said Wright, who defeated Morgan Dodd 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to help Gainesville's girls to their first quarterfinal berth since 2005. "Sometimes I have a hard time focusing in close matches like this."

You would never have known by her third set performance on Monday -- though the second set played a big part in her determination after Wright watched a 5-1 lead evaporate with six straight game setbacks.

"I knew once she dropped that second set it would make her mad and stir her up," Gainesville girls coach Kellie Smith said. "I had confidence she would do it."

Wright stormed to the victory, breaking Dodd's serve early and then holding serve in a marathon sixth game in the third set, facing down six deuce points before pulling ahead 4-2. Wright then broke serve again to move in front 5-2 before notching the 6-3 win.

"I had to turn it on because she (Dodd) was good; her serve was amazing," Wright said. "I just knew I had to keep getting the ball back in play and keep it deep."

The Lady Red Elephants looked in deep trouble early, falling behind 2-0 out of the gate with a 6-1, 6-0 loss at No. 1 singles -- Sequoyah's Taylor Dodd winning -- and 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 singles -- Sequoyah's Montana Gilbert prevailing.

Gainesville was not about to give in, however, and the fightback started on the doubles court.

Haley Frankum and Josie Evert earned the Lady Red Elephants' first point, taking a 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 2 doubles.

Minutes later, the No. 1 team of Morgan Mercer and Suzanne Smith leveled the match at 2-2 with a gripping, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory.

"I give all of this to our doubles teams," Wright said. "They've played so hard, and any one of us could have won this for us today."

And it's a group that will keep playing, moving on to face Cambridge in the third round of the Class AAAAA bracket, match time to be determined.

Perhaps the best news for the Lady Red Elephants is that Cambridge is a No. 2 seed, meaning top-seeded Gainesville will get to host the next round at Longwood Park -- meaning that coach Smith may get a chance to see it in person.

Smith is nine months pregnant, and Monday's match came on her due date.

"My main goal was to get a chance to play here; I may have still have a chance to see it," Smith said.

Getting a chance to watch the players she has helped foster for many years will prove a powerful draw for the coach.

"This is a group (the seniors) I started with when they were eighth graders, and they mean so much to me," Smith said. "They have worked so hard and they know what competition is."

They certainly showed as much on Monday.
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