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Stonewall’s Leigha Kagey returns a shot during a practice last year at New Market Park courts. Kagey along with three other seniors made a big impact on the girls tennis program, including a trip to the state tourney as sophomores.

Stonewall Jackson seniors Marleigh Councill, Kiersten Dodson, Leigha Kagey and Faith Morrison made a big and lasting impact on the girls tennis program.

The quartet helped bring the program to a level of success it hadn't seen in a while.

Councill, who joined the team as a sophomore, said that the seniors shared a strong bond together.

"The four of us were close," Councill said. "We played together a couple years now and that bond really got stronger every year. We had to change coaches this upcoming year. So I think that kind of made the four of us become even stronger, because we kind of realized that we had to guide the team now. We kind of had to show the new coach how things worked in the past and how we wanted them to continue to work in order for us to be successful this season."

Stonewall Jackson girls tennis coach Issac Brunk was in his first year coaching the team before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season. He said he only coached the four girls for three weeks, but they were very helpful to him in getting the season started.

"It was a group that was dedicated to conditioning at the start of the season, very hard workers," Brunk said. "They were great in helping me learn the procedures and learn my way around. I know how to play tennis, but I had never coached tennis before."

Kagey and Councill were the team's top two players and have been for the last two years.

Kagey said that even though they were constantly battling for the top singles spot on the team, they got along well and helped each other.

"I love Marleigh, she's like a crazy person – but I love her," Kagey said. "She has helped me improve myself in doubles and I hope that I have helped her out, too. I'm truly going to miss it. We just had this great bond on the court when we played with each other. We always kept each other awake through the matches and made sure that we communicated well and kept pushing ourselves to do better throughout the matches and for the upcoming years, and just kept pushing us to do our best."

One of the team highlights during Councill and Kagey's time on the team was advancing to the Class 1 state tournament two years ago.

"I felt really great," Kagey said. "I was hoping to keep going with that throughout my career. It kept pushing me to do better through the season because that was my top goal for junior and senior year. So I just kept looking at that as a highlight. If I keep pushing myself and keep doing what I have to do, then that could be an outcome for my work."

Councill said one of her favorite moments of her career was playing doubles last year with Kagey in the Region 1B individual tournament. The pair came up just short of a state berth, and we're hoping to try and get to states this year.

"That really showed me what this is all about," Councill said. "It showed me how far you can really go and how as an individual you can do more than just your team. It really pushed Leigha and I in our doubles because we made it pretty far. It kind of showed Leigha and I that we are good and that we can make it far."

Former Stonewall Jackson coach Bill Simmons said that Councill and Kagey will certainly be missed next year.

"They both were very much kids who kept their head down," Simmons said. "They weren't flashy but they just worked at tennis practice. They worked in the matches. They worked and that's the kind of kids that you need. They probably weren't your best athletes, but they definitely were better tennis players because they just worked so hard."

Simmons said that Dodson and Morrison played some last year and did their best.

"Faith came along last year as a new player and she did about as good as anybody whose a junior and never picked it up could be expected to do," Simmons said. "Kiersten was in the same boat. They were both brand new to it. You got what you expected out of kids who had never played really. Faith did cheer, so there was athleticism there, but Kiersten I don't think ever played anything. So you got two kids who had never really played the sport."

Simmons said that all four of them were part of building the program up.

"The best thing about all those kids that I had over all those four years, is they bought into a culture of it's not necessarily going to be about wins and losses at the beginning," Simmons said. "It's going to be about how much better can we get? How much stronger can we get athletically to get where we want to be at the end? Even though last year wasn't as much of a success as we had the year prior, I still feel like all those kids had worked really hard and they were athletically capable of playing."

Kagey said she is undecided on college but is considering playing tennis at Mary Baldwin College next year.

Councill said she and Morrison are best friends and are both cheerleaders at Stonewall Jackson. Councill said that one of the things tennis helped her with is realizing that she can do an athletic sport besides cheerleading.

Councill, who plans to attend West Virginia University next year, said she's glad she was a part of the girls tennis program.

"The team was always a lot of fun," she said. "Everything we did, it was always fun. The matches, they made it fun. They didn't always make them stressful. Our coaches always brought energy to the team. Our whole team just clicked so well. I couldn't have asked for a better team to be a part of and go through it all with."

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com