GAINESVILLE — The Gainesville girls tennis team experienced a season's worth of momentum swings and drama in one match on Tuesday.
Despite showing that they were more than up for the challenge, however, the final swing proved too much for the Lady Red Elephants, who saw their season come to an end in a 3-2 defeat to Allatoona in the first round of the Class AAAAAA bracket at Longwood Park in Gainesville.
Gainesville battled back from an 0-2 start -- falling at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles -- to knot the score at 2-2 via victories at No. 2 doubles and No. 3 singles. The outcomes turned all eyes to the No. 1 singles battle, which provided an entertaining marathon, but one that slipped from the Lady Red Elephants' grasp, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
"We knew it was going to be tough; Allatoona had won their region the past six years, so we were shocked to see them as a four seed," Gainesville coach Kellie Smith said. "This was tough, but with so many young kids on the team and coming into the program it was a learning experience.
"I'm so proud of how our girls battled today. They showed their competitive edge and not wanting to give up and get the job done."
Ali Waggoner typified that attitude.
The Gainesville girls No. 3 singles player fell down a set to start, 6-2, but battled her way through the second set, understanding that her team's fortunes rested in her hands. Waggoner responded by taking the second set 7-5 and then storming to a 6-1 victory in the third. Her victory combined with Gainesville's No. 2 doubles team to haul the Lady Red Elephants even, as Paige Patterson and Grace O'Keefe also prevailed 6-2, 6-2.
"Ali knew that she had to win, and she still did it with all that pressure; that was impressive," Smith said.
With the momentum building, Gainesville players and fans crowded around the No. 1 singles match, hanging on every point that Haley Frankum ripped from her racquet. But the Lady Red Elephants could not claim the marathon two-and-a-half-hour battle that featured one of just two seniors in the Gainesville starting line-up (No. 1 doubles player Paige Ackerman being the other).
"These girls just got stronger and stronger as the season went on, and this was another opportunity to learn," said Smith, whose team won its third straight region title of its own earlier this season. "I'm proud of all of them."