Countdown to state tennis, one week left for Bears

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, April 18, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — West Lincoln tennis head coach Idalia Sterling reclined in a wooden lawn chair at Brookhaven Country Club as she watched her players warm up Monday afternoon. Chloe Sterling, Tristin Rollins, Kam Clark, Ann Carter Waltman and Alexis Johnson prepared to scrimmage other players from Brookhaven High School and Franklin County High School in preparation for the MHSAA 1A Individual State Championships on April 24, in Vicksburg. 

Sterling punched her ticket to the state tournament by winning a district title in Girls Singles on March 31. Clark and Rollins won the district championship in boys doubles while Johnson and Waltman finished second also punching their ticket to the state tournament. 

Yu-Ting Chen of Pelahatchie will be the first round opponent for Sterling in the Girls Singles Class 1 bracket. Rollins and Clark are set to play Conner Robinson and Rusty McCollum of Pisgah in the first round of the Boys Doubles Class 1 bracket. They scrimmaged against Franklin County’s Levi Sterling and Jaxon Westbrook, who will play in the Class 3A Individual State Tournament.

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“It feels good to make it to state but I honestly had not thought about it. We hope to make it far,” Rollins said. “I started playing tennis for the old tennis coach. She asked me for a few years if I would play and I told her I would play after eighth grade. COVID hit and I didn’t get to play in ninth grade so tenth grade was my first year playing. It is just fun to me. I play tennis almost every day. It has taught me patience too.” 

Rollins is a senior and so is his teammate Clark. They have both made the individual state tournament before but never got past the first round. One of Clark’s fondest memories of playing tennis for the Bears was making it to state his first year in seventh grade. 

Clark hopes to make it to the third round with Rollins. He said this season means more because he is a senior at West Lincoln and it is his third year playing with Rollins. 

His tennis career started thanks to his sisters picking up a racket. He joined in and has stuck with the sport. 

Tennis is not the only sport he has played at West Lincoln, the senior played football too. It is likely the state tournament will be the end of his playing career with a school team but he has another chapter of  life to look forward to. 

“I’ll go to Co-Lin and take automated control courses. I plan to work for someone in a nuclear power plant or electrical work,” Clark said. “I just want to stay around here and make decent money. The final weeks of school are dragging.” 

Rollins will go to Hinds Community College and study drafting and design. His hope is to continue on his family’s metal building construction company. The days at West Lincoln are coming to a close for Rollins. 

“I’m excited to be almost done with school and move on with life,” Rollins said. “One of my favorite memories playing tennis was hitting him (Clark) in the head twice. It wasn’t on purpose. I just framed the ball off of a serve both times.” 

On the other side of a pavilion, girls doubles partners Johnson and Waltman scrimmaged a pair from Brookhaven’s Junior Varsity tennis team. The Panther players were skillful and had spin on their serves. 

Waltman said playing the experienced pair was helping them prepare for the state tournament. They will have to face Addison Eaves and Bailey Eaves from Tupelo Christian Prep in the first round of the Class I Individual State Tournament Girls Doubles bracket. 

“I think I’m ready. I’m just nervous, it is my first time to make it to state,” Waltman said. “It is my first year playing tennis. I played when I was little but I moved here from Madison and started playing basketball at Brookhaven Academy and started playing again this year.” 

Her partner Johnson is a junior and a basketball player too. She has been to the state tournament before and played in the competition last year. The nerves are not there for Johnson. 

She is an experienced player. While she has played tennis her entire childhood, seventh grade was the first time she tried out for the West Lincoln team and has played since then. Once she graduates from high school, she hopes to keep playing tennis, possibly at Co-Lin, and pursue a career as a nurse. 

Johnson said last year was a frustrating experience. It was her and her partner’s first time playing in the state tournament. She said has a goal to reach the third round this year with her young partner. Doubles is her favorite style of tennis because partners help each other through the match. 

“I feel like I have someone to rely on,” she said. “It will take communication and practice to get to the third round.”