JONESBORO, Ga. — The pressure of playing the match to decide a state championship might overwhelm many high school tennis players. Lakeside’s Anneliese Leahy seemed to embrace it.
With the Class AAAAA championship match against Starr’s Mill tied at 2, the outcome was put squarely on the shoulders of Leahy. She rose to the occasion and helped the Panthers win their first state tennis championship, 3-2, on Saturday at the Clayton County International Park Tennis Center.
“I didn’t know it would come down to me,” Leahy said “When it did, I knew had to win for my team. I wanted to do it for our team.”
Lakeside’s Kayla Hergott won the No. 1 singles match against Erin Egoroff, 6-4, 6-1. Starr’s Mill evened the score when Rachael Williams beat Taylor Richards 6-0, 6-0.
Starr’s Mill won No. 1 doubles when Kailey Inhulsen and Shannon McKillip beat Sara Hess and Alexis Ellis 6-2, 6-2. But Lakeside tied the match when the No. 2 team of Brittany McLeod and Katie Burton beat Samantha Curtis and Cassidy Sparkman 7-5, 6-4.
That left Leahy and Starr’s Mill’s Emily Shull as the center of attention. The two had split the first two sets, Shull winning 6-2 and Leahy winning 7-6. The winner-take-all final game drew a large crowd from those still at the park. Leahy wound up breaking Shull’s serve, winning the third set 6-4 on a double fault.
“I’m still on Cloud Nine right now,” Leahy said.
The win was a proper send-off for coach Miranda Whitmire, who is leaving the program after four years. The Panthers had never gotten past the Elite Eight and Whitmire expected a difficult match based on a 3-2 loss suffered to Starr’s Mill earlier this season.
“And that match went to a third-set tiebreaker,” Whitmire said. “So I knew we had a chance.”
When the final game rested on Leahy, the coach had some simple instructions.
“I told her there wasn’t any pressure on her,” Whitmire said. “I just told her to play like she’d always done and she’d pull it out.”
The finals was the first time that Lakeside had been tested in the playoffs. It beat Richmond Hill 5-0 in the first round and followed with 3-0 victories over Lee County, Glynn Academy and Allatoona.
“I woke up before my alarm went off this morning and thought about what it would be like to win the state championship,” Hergott said. “This is very exciting.”