Whitesboro senior Makayla Williams is back at state, hoping to improve upon her quarterfinal finish a year ago.
Whitewright sophomore Juliann Kelley also returns to College Station, this time playing solo after qualifying last year with her older sister Jamie as doubles partner.
“This time I'm going in singles, so it's a different atmosphere,” Kelley said. “More ground to cover, in the front and the back and side to side.”
Both are on opposite sides of the Class 3A girls' singles draw, and both would love to meet each other in the finals of the University Interscholastic League state tennis tournament at Texas A&M University's Mitchell Tennis Center and Omar Smith Instructional Courts.
“It would be awesome,” Williams said. “She (Kelley) deserves it too. She's going to be a great player.”
Williams and Kelley will open tournament play today with quarterfinal matches at 9:30 a.m. today. Williams will face Hannah Long of Lago Vista, and Kelley will take on Sara Humpal of Corpus Christi London.
Winners will advance to the semifinals at 3 p.m. today, with state finals set for 10 a.m. on Friday.
Williams and Kelley have met three times this spring, with Williams winning all three. The most recent meeting was in the Class 3A Region II tournament last month at Tyler Junior College, when Williams won their semifinal match in a three-set thriller, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5.
Williams made it to regionals each of her first two years of high school, losing in the first round as a freshman and placing fourth as a sophomore.
She made her first state appearance last May after winning the District 10-3A championship, falling against defending 3A state champion Hana Folse of Brock in the semifinals but winning a playback match to earn a state trip. At state, Williams lost her quarterfinal match, 6-3, 6-2, against Kirbyville's Dominique Leh.
“I was nervous,” Williams said of her first trip to state. “It was nerve-wracking to be there in the first place. I'm hoping this year I go for a better run. I feel like I got a good draw.”
This year, Williams will be joined at state by Whitesboro teammates Scott Gautier and Morgan Portman in mixed doubles at state. Portman replaces Ruth Leach, who was injured.
Williams was also almost joined by teammate Portman in girls’ singles. After Williams beat Portman in the region finals, 6-3, 6-4, to win the Region II championship, Portman and Whitewright’s Kelley met in a playback, with Kelley winning 6-0, 7-6 (3).
Kelley is well on her way to making a name for herself after following in the footsteps of her older sister. Jamie Kelley made two appearances at state, one last year as a senior with her sister and one in 2015 with doubles partner Victoria Wheeler.
“I'm just excited that Juliann's going to be there and playing,” said their father, Whitewright tennis coach John Kelley. “She's made me proud whatever she does. She's always got a chance to win it.”
Last year in girls' doubles, the Kelley sisters won a playback against district rivals Alyssa Davis and Maggie Scoggins of Leonard to advance to state, but dropped their quarterfinal match against Sonora's Sky Jennings and Tyler Hampton, the eventual state champions, after leading 4-3 in the first set.
“We lost the finals round and it was a really intense and close match,” Juliann Kelley said. “It took a lot of heart and effort getting back into the playback after just being defeated. We just did what we have to do making it to state.”
Jamie Kelley graduated last spring and went on to Texas A&M, where she is majoring in engineering. That left Juliann back at Whitewright with three more chances at winning state. So far, so good on her first chance.
This year, Juliann Kelley lost to Williams in the semifinals but gained a playback against Whitesboro's Portman, winning that match to secure the other state berth out of Region II.
“This year has been kind of smooth but challenging,” she said. “I miss my partner, my sister. But I just love playing tennis and I enjoyed playing singles this year.”
Whitewright is beginning to develop a strong winning tradition in tennis, with state qualifiers in four of the last five seasons. The school constructed new tennis courts on campus a year ago, and the Tigers are making good use of them.
For Williams, this spring will be the end for her as far as competitive tennis goes. She plans to attend Sam Houston State and major in business.
“I just played every match like it was my last,” Williams said, “knowing that at any moment I can get hurt and it can be the end. I know I'm not going to be able to play next year for Whitesboro, so I'm trying to enjoy it.”