Tennis Makes Strong Strides in 2009

Neely Johnson, Belhaven Tennis

The Belhaven men’s and women’s tennis teams each saw marked improvements in 2009 under first year head coach Levi Patton, who was recently honored with the Southern Rookie Tennis Pro of the Year Award, given by the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA). The men’s team finished the year with a 6-12 record which was two wins better than the previous year. The Lady Blazers improved on a 2-7 2008 record with an 8-11 overall record. Both teams made it to the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals.

Women’s Tennis

The Belhaven women’s tennis team got off to a hot start by winning three of their first four matches, including wins over NCAA Division I Arkansas-Pine Bluff, conference rival Tougaloo College, and Co-Lin Community College.

Belhaven then suffered three straight losses, including losses to NAIA perennial power Xavier University of New Orleans and to Mississippi College. Belhaven won their next four matches in the season’s longest winning streak. The Lady Blazers pounded Louisiana College, had a match sweep of cross town rival Millsaps, and wins against Rust College and Tougaloo. At that point, Belhaven owned an overall record of 7-4.

The Lady Blazers then hit a rough spot and lost their next six matches to close out the regular season. The Lady Blazers rebounded with a win against Tougaloo in the GCAC tournament quarterfinals, but they fell short in the semifinals against top seeded Xavier University.

Belhaven was led by seniors Neely Johnson, Mayra Prado, and Lindsey Berg. Freshman players Kristen Kelly, Rebecca Riley, and Mary Kris Young all gained valuable experience in their first year, and along with junior Julia Watkins will return for a promising 2010 season.

Men’s Tennis

The Belhaven men’s tennis season began with a pair of tough losses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Huntingdon College and two victories over Tougaloo College and Holmes Community College. Belhaven then lost twice to Xavier University and once to Mississippi College.

The Blazers regrouped with three wins in their next four matches which included victories over Louisiana College, Rust College, and Tougaloo College. Belhaven faltered and dropped their next five contests, but rallied for a win over Spring Hill in the regular season finale. The 2009 campaign came to a close in the semifinals of the GCAC Tournament, with a loss to the University of Mobile.

Many players will return to build upon the 2009 season. Keith Sikes was the only senior on this squad, and everyone else is scheduled to return next year. Henry Mandell and Gabriel Prado will be looked upon to anchor the top of the rotation, while Josh Sturgis, Harris Brabston, Damien Bone, and Jim Strickland will play key roles in 2010.

“The 2009 season was truly a rebuilding year for the program,” says Coach Patton. “The teams had a combined 14 wins for the year which doubled the amount of wins for the past two years combined, and there was a definite movement in the right direction. Interest around the campus and in the community is beginning to rise and all in all, the Belhaven men’s and women’s tennis programs are on the rise,” adds Patton.

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