Sunday June 4th, 2023 4:00AM

STATE FINALS: North Hall girls denied by powerhouse Pace Academy

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

ROME, Ga. — The outcome wasn’t what the North Hall girls tennis team was looking for. However, experiencing the finals of the Georgia High School Association playoffs on Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center certainly was.

The Lady Trojans fell 3-0 to now four-time defending state champion and juggernaut Pace Academy in the Class 4A title match. The Lady Knights won the Class 3A title in 2019, the Class 2A titles in 2021 and 2022, and now the 4A crown.

It was the first-ever trip to the championship round for the North Hall program and longtime coach Bob Woodworth. He is expecting it to be the first of many.

“This wasn’t our best performance but I see us getting back here only with a better outcome,” Woodworth said afterward. “We were up against a terribly difficult opponent and the girls gave it their all.”

Nerves may have played a factor right from the start for North Hall. All three singles and both doubles dropped opening sets in quick fashion. Senior and Region 8-4A Player of the Year Gabbie Jenkins said the atmosphere of the state finals was even more hectic than they had anticipated.

“We were a little overwhelmed with how big the place was and being in the finals of anything is crazy so that may have been a factor,” Jenkins said. “It was nerve-wracking. There was a lot of build-up to it. I don’t think we played anywhere near how we had been the last couple of rounds.”

North Hall was coming off a thrilling 3-2 win over Holy Innocents' in the semfinals, which had followed an impressive 3-0 win over West Laurens in the quarterfinals.

Against the experienced Lady Knights, however, it was an uphill battle right out of the gate. The No. 2 doubles was the first to finish with Callie Clark and Kate Rogers losing 6-0, 6-1 in under 50 minutes. No. 3 singles and No. 2 singles finished within minutes with Lilly Perry falling 6-3, 6-1 and Jenkins dropping a 6-1, 6-2 decision in the match-clincher to cap the 89-minute final.

However, Riley Morgan and Maggie Perry had a set-point for the second set to even their match as they battled back before the match was called. Sophomore Ella Kate Canaday at No. 1 singles also was still battling to try and even her match at the end.

“The girls did not lay down. They fought the entire match,” Woodworth said. “I was proud of them.”

Jenkins said she had an inkling of what was to come after the Lady Trojans knocked off perennial power Lovett in the second round.

“This was a record year. It was crazy. Every year has a different feel to it but this year was probably the best so far,” Jenkins said. “After that Lovett match, I think we all realized what we were capable of.”

Although Jenkins will not get a chance to be a part of any future lineups, she feels the program is on solid footing moving forward.  

“A lot of people probably thought this was a surprise for us to get here,” she said. “But me, I wasn’t surprised at all because of how strong our younger players are. They just needed to believe in themselves and they started doing that after (the Lovett match). They won some really clutch matches in the playoffs and I’m proud of them for that.

“I’m excited for them for next year and beyond. They should be just as good, if not better.”

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