It's been another outstanding season for the Jones County Junior College women's tennis team.
The Lady Bobcats, currently ranked No. 21 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, will travel to Tucson, Ariz., for the NJCAA Division I National Tournament on May 4-10.
This will be the second year in a row and the eighth time in 10 years for the Lady Bobcat tennis team to participate in the national tournament
"Back to back trips to the national tournament is a testament to the types of players we have and the year they had this year," head coach Mark Easley said. "It was another good one. To be rewarded by taking a trip to the nationals in Arizona is great.
"There will be a lot of excellent tennis going on, but it will be a chance for these girls to see a different part of the country they may not have seen if not for this particular reason."
JCJC finished second in the MACJC State Tournament in Tupelo on April 18-20 and second in the Region 23 Tournament in Meridian on April 24-25, which qualified them for the nationals.
The Lady Bobcats, who posted a 12-2 regular season record, feature Alicia Domoney at No. 1 singles, Stephanie Smith at No. 2 singles, Brenda Hegwood at No. 3 singles, Aja White at No. 4 singles, Elizabeth Wright at No. 5 singles and Brooke Martin at No. 6 singles. Hegwood will not be able to make the trip, so Carly Stuart will play in the No. 3 singles slot.
Domoney and Smith are the No. 1 doubles team, while Wright and White – subbing for Hegwood – will play No. 2 doubles. Madison Walker and Stuart will be at No. 3 doubles.
Domoney is a sophomore from Capetown, South Africa.
"Alicia is one of the best tennis players to ever come through Jones," Easley said. "She is a quality individual and a very fine tennis player. She could play at the next level, but has decided to purse a music education degree at Southern Miss next year. She is very sound in her game and we will miss her. But this is a great way for her to end her tennis career at Jones."
Smith is a sophomore from West Jones. She has won back-to-back MACJC No. 2 singles titles and won the Region 23 title this year. Smith owns a 19-0 record and has already signed with Belhaven University.
"Stephanie has come a long way," Easley said. "The success she has had on the tennis court speaks for itself. She is a very good tennis player and an even better young lady. She hates to lose, is a great competitor and is one of the hardest working players I've ever had."
White is a sophomore from Purvis.
"Aja is a solid player and gives herself a chance to win every time out," Easley said. "She works very hard and has played singles all year. But she will get to play doubles with Liz at the nationals, since Brenda cannot go. She had a chance to go and play at Belhaven, but she is going to continue her education at Southern Miss. She has had a good two years for us."
Wright is a freshman from Gautier.
"Elizabeth lost once all season and that was in the finals of the state tournament, but she came back the following week and got redemption in the regional tournament and won No. 5 singles there," Easley said. "As the season was starting, Elizabeth told me how much she hated singles. I told her she would learn to love it, especially because she moves so well on the court and she is such a feisty competitor.
"And she has grown to love singles now. She is a 4.0 student and she has her gameplan mapped out for what she wants to do after she leaves Jones. She is very driven when it comes to her education and she is another quality young lady."
Martin is a freshman from Purvis.
"Brooke went 18-0 on the year and won state and regionals at No. 6 singles," Easley said. "She just fights and battles every point to the end. She has that ‘never-say-die' attitude. Obviously, she has had a great year as a freshman and we are expecting great things out of her next year."
Stuart is a freshman from Purvis and Walker is a freshman from Ridgeland.
"Carly is a very good athlete and has improved on her consistency all year," Easley said. "She is really looking forward to playing singles in nationals. Madison is also a soccer player and is really coming into her own at the end of the year. I think they will both do well in nationals."
Hegwood is in a unique situation.
She is a non-traditional student, obtained her GED and enrolled in JCJC in the fall. She is from New Orleans, La., but relocated to Petal after Hurricane Katrina. Her daughter, Jenna, is a senior at Petal High School and has signed to play tennis at Jones. So, next year there will be a ‘mother-daughter' combination on the Lady Bobcat tennis team.
Her daughter's baccalaureate service is this weekend and Hegwood will stay at home for that.
"We knew leading up to the nationals with her husband working offshore and her daughter being a senior at Petal, a lot of things would be happening with her daughter at the same time we are in Arizona," Easley said. "Brenda was torn because she did not want to let the team down. But I told her that was her family and your daughter only graduates high school one time. The baccalaureate service and things like that when your daughter is a senior, you really need to be with your family.
"I just told Brenda to help us get to nationals and we will worry about the rest later. She has been a solid No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles player all year for us.
"I could not be more proud of what she has done. She has fit right in with the team and is just one of the girls."
Easley said there will be 28-30 teams in the tournament and he hopes the Lady Bobcats can fare well.
"There are usually about 10-15 teams that are really, really strong," he said. "A goal we have put out there for ourselves is to finish in the top 20. If we get around the No. 15 mark, that's great. We had a good tournament out there a couple of years ago, so I'm hoping for good things. A lot of it depends on the draw.
"This team has a lot of quickness and is full of good athletes. That's one of the things this team has that maybe some of the teams have not had in the past and that's speed on the courts, as well as a lot of athleticism."
The Lady Bobcats finished 21st in the nationals last year in Tyler, Texas. Their best finish was 18th in Tucson in 2010.
"That was the first time I had been to Tyler and that was a good trip," Easley said. "The girls enjoyed that and I know they will enjoy this one, as well."
The Lady Bobcats are flying out of Jackson on Friday. There will be a coaches' meeting on Saturday afternoon with matches scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning at the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center.
"We have a little bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday morning to do some sightseeing," Easley said. "They will be able to hit and practice some while I'm at the coaches' meeting.
"Starting on Monday morning, they will start play with consolation rounds and regular rounds around 7:30. It's going to be a busy week and a fun week, as well."
To keep up with the tournament, go to http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=138651.