Generals excited for girls tennis Class 1 state tourney

Stonewall's Sarah Miller returns a serve during practice this week at the New Market Park. The Generals will play in the Class 1 state quarterfinals at Mathews on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

NEW MARKET – Stonewall Jackson’s girls tennis team logged a lot of miles last week, but it paid off for them in a big way.

The Generals secured a Class 1 state berth by winning two of their three matches in the regional tourney – all of which were on the road.

“I’ve really seen a lot of growth in us,” Stonewall Jackson senior Emmy Pilkerton said before Tuesday’s practice at New Market Park. “I’m excited. We were able to kind of get ourselves together and get to this point. And I think a lot of it had to do with we were very supportive of each other and I think that helped us a lot.”

The Generals play at Mathews at 1 p.m. Friday in the Class 1 state quarterfinals.

Stonewall Jackson coach Bill Simmons said that he figured it up and his team traveled 750 miles last week. The Generals, who had won only two matches entering the regional tourney, were the No. 5 seed of five teams in the tournament.

Stonewall's Leigha Kagey hits a backhand shot during practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Generals started off with a 5-2 victory over fourth-seeded Altavista in the quarterfinals. They followed that up with a 5-2 win over top-seeded William Campbell in the semifinals to gain the Class 1 state berth.

Stonewall Jackson senior Sarah Miller, who plays at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, said she was happy with the team effort in the victory over William Campbell.

“The William Campbell match we were nervous about – I was nervous about it during that match because I lost my singles match,” Miller said. “They seemed like a tough team. The rest of the team really came through for me, and I was really proud of them.”

Miller played her part in the victory over William Campbell. She and teammate Leigha Kagey clinched the team victory with a three-set win at No. 1 doubles.

“It felt really good,” Miller said. “We both played really hard, and I was really impressed with Leigha (Kagey) and how she played. (After the match) It was very emotional, and we all hugged and cried.”

Stonewall's Emmy Pilkerton returns a volley during a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Generals (4-16) ended their week with a 5-0 loss to second-seeded Riverheads in the regional final, but Simmons said that the match lasted over three hours. It was Stonewall Jackson’s third loss of the year to Shenandoah District rival Riverheads. Due to Stonewall Jackson’s graduation on Friday, the match was played on Thursday, the day after the Generals’ win over William Campbell.

“It was no cupcake win,” Simmons said of the loss to Riverheads. “They had to earn every one of their wins. Our girls just battled hard. It took a lot of courage to go to those two wins and then come back (the next day) and fight that hard.”

It also took considerable resilience for the Generals to stay positive after going 2-14 in the regular season. Stonewall Jackson plays in a tough Shenandoah District, and four of the eight teams they lost to in the regular season made it to regionals, and two advanced to the state tournaments. All but one of Stonewall Jackson’s regular-season opponents are Class 2 teams, and Simmons said they helped the Generals get ready for the postseason.

“At the beginning of the season, I told them if we stay focused with our district we could be 0-16 and still qualify for states,” he said. “We weren’t quite 0-16, but obviously they listened, and that’s a testament to their character and their inner mental strength to go through all that losing. …Our schedule definitely prepared us for a chance. And that’s what they did; they took advantage of a chance.”

Simmons said his players have improved as the season has progressed. The players said they’ve worked hard and improved in doubles as well. The Generals clinched both of their victories last week in doubles.

Miller and Pilkerton are the only two seniors in the singles lineup, and Kagey, a sophomore, said she’s excited about the future of the program.

“I love this group of girls,” Kagey said. “I feel like we’ve done really good throughout the whole year. I feel like my junior and senior year we will be even better.”

The Generals have seen Mathews before. Last year Mathews beat Stonewall Jackson in the regional tournament, 5-0. Simmons said it was a long match, and Mathews has been in the state tournament many times over the last decade.

Miller said she just wants to play the best she can and see how they stack up against Mathews.

“I’m just going to play my hardest and give it all I’ve got,” she said. “And it’s like there’s nothing to lose. That’s what I’m going to do. So whatever happens, happens.”