BHS tennis duos McNeil, Stewart & Kilpatrick, Leggett reign as champs

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, April 27, 2024

The MHSAA 5A state championship tennis tournament was an intense three day stretch of competition for the hard courters from Brookhaven High in Oxford.

The week started on Monday with the annual team competition, where Brookhaven High was defeated in a close 5-4 battle with their rivals from Lafayette High, the eventual 5A state champs, in the semifinal round.

After that, the players and coaches from Ole Brook had to recalibrate for the individual tournament, an area where the program has shined on a year in and year out basis.

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After the final shot was struck, Brookhaven High had four Panthers return to Lincoln County with first place finishes as 5A state champs for coach Becky Green.

In girls’ doubles, the team of senior Allie Grace McNeill and eighth grader Annie Stewart defeated a team from Lafayette High in the championship match to capture a state title.

In mixed doubles, Brookhaven High junior Caroline Kilpatrick and freshman Cohen Leggett also overcame a pair from Lafayette High in the championship match to win a state title. That makes three individual titles and counting for Kilpatrick in her decorated career.

McNeill and Stewart defeated Jenna Lampton and Bentley Spicer of Lafayette in the first set of their championship match 6-1. Lafayette, playing in their home city, came back to win the second set 6-2 to send the match to a third set tiebreaker.

Stewart, an eighth grader at Alexander Junior High, wasn’t intimidated about going to the third set.

“I just took a deep breath and knew we were going to win that tiebreaker,” said Stewart.

And that’s what happened, as McNeill and Stewart won the tiebreaker 10-5 to claim gold.

It was an especially sweet end to the career of McNeill as she’ll soon walk across King Field as a graduate of Brookhaven High.

“Ever since ninth grade when I first made the varsity team, my goal has been to win a state title, it’s what we strive for every year,” said McNeill. “It feels amazing and makes me feel like my years on the tennis team are truly complete. It was a great way to go out.”

McNeill was also recently named a team member for the 2024 MAC All-Star Tennis Tournament which will be held on June 13 at Parham Bridges in Jackson.

Wanting to send her teammate out as a champion was also a motivating factor for Stewart to press through the tight ending of the title match.

“I definitely wanted to win this one for Allie Grace,” said Stewart. “She’s a great partner who returns everything her way and we get along really well. We’re not the kind of team that’s ever going to argue with each other.”

McNeill felt the same type of confidence as her younger teammate going into the match deciding tiebreaker.

“When Annie and I were going into the tiebreaker, I knew we could do it as long as we played our best and fought with all we had,” said McNeill. “I honestly didn’t doubt that we’d win for a second.”

Stewart had played doubles with Kilpatrick during the team competition and the ability to play with whoever she’s paired with is a strength that Kilpatrick has shown time and time again during her career.

As an eighth grader, Kilpatrick won her first MHSAA title in mixed doubles with current Copiah-Lincoln tennis player Robert Adcock. Kilpatrick paired the next season with Lucy Allen as the duo won the 5A doubles title in 2022.

Last season though, Kilpatrick and Allen lost in the 5A finals in their bid to repeat. That didn’t sit well with the competitive Kilpatrick.

“I was more motivated than ever for this year,” said Kilpatrick. “Even though being second in the state is an accomplishment, it’s not one I enjoyed. I knew I didn’t want to have to experience receiving that silver medal again.”

The championship match for Kilpatrick and Leggett didn’t get off to a great start though, as Finn Rico and Presley Thomas of Lafayette High jumped out to a 4-1 advantage in the first set.

From there on out, the mixed doubles pair from Brookhaven High locked in and battled back. Kilpatrick and Leggett won the first set 6-4 and then repeated that effort to win set two 6-4 in clinching the title.

Kilpatrick credits her chemistry with Leggett as a product of much shared court time.

“We are always at the courts playing against each other,” said Kilpatrick. “We know each other’s game extremely well. We never had a problem gelling, but it for sure became smoother as the season progressed.”

That’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Leggett.

“I think all the work we put in going out and practicing together and playing against adults in the area has made us better,” said Leggett. “Also, both of us having experience in big matches like that and both of us knowing what it takes to win helped us on Wednesday.”

Leggett has had previous success playing singles for the Panthers in team and individual tournaments since joining the varsity squad as a seventh grader.

Kilpatrick doesn’t know who she’ll play with next season when the state tournament rolls back around. She’ll just continue to trust her coaches in her quest for one final state title.

“If anyone really knows Ole Brook tennis, then they know Coach Becky is extremely smart with how she comes up with our lineups,” said Kilpatrick. “She tells us where to play and we say, yes ma’am and we win.”