Team-first mentality

BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT

 

ASHLAND Parker Clarke’s willingness to set aside his flourishing singles game to play doubles during the postseason has given Ashland a chance to go deep in both draws at next week’s State Tennis Tournament.

While senior teammate Robby Krick steamrolled to his third 16th Region singles championship in four years Wednesday, Clarke and Layne Meek dominated doubles on the Ashland Tennis Center courts.

“For the betterment of the team this is what we had to do,” Clarke said. “We want to be playing on the last day in Lexington in both events.”

Coach Eddie Sizemore couldn’t be more impressed with the junior.

“Parker going over to doubles is an incredibly selfless move,” Sizemore said. “I think we feel collectively this is the best way for our team to finish high up at state and compete for singles and doubles championships.Parker made the ultimate team move. Had he played Krick in the (singles) finals today it would have been a war.”

They did meet in last year’s title match, with Krick holding off his teammate in the second set for a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

“And they’re both considerably better now,” Sizemore said. “Parker’s playing an as good or better doubles game as anyone I’ve had in my 18 years as coach.”

Sizemore refers to Krick, Clarke and senior Meek as “The Big Three.”

They looked the part Wednesday, closing out three days of regional competition by not dropping a game.Krick powered past Russell eighth-grader Michael Eastham, then paused for a moment to reflect.

“The last time I went into a region final with an Eastham, it didn’t go quite as well,” Krick said.

Two years ago, Eastham’s older brother Matthew defeated Krick for the title, turning the table from their outcome the previous season.

“Any time you’re in a region final, you have to think about things like that,” Krick said. “Mostly, I just went out and played my game.”

Sizemore described the 2018 version of Krick as fitter, moving better, hitting harder and having developed more shots.

“There’s more versatility in his game,” Sizemore said. “He’s ready to go to Lexington and see what happens. I don’t know how good he can be. We’re going to find out.”

Krick, a state semifinalist as a sophomore, began his senior season on a high note by knocking off Trinity standout Brandon Chou.

It’s been a long run for Krick with the Tomcats. He joined the team as a sixth-grader.

“We’ve won four region titles and three runner- ups during that time,” Sizemore said. “This one is special. We’ve been together a long time. This is a family.”

Krick agreed.

“We’ve pushed each other every day in practice and been very supportive of each other,” he said. “We’re like brothers.”

For the first time in the Sizemore era, Ashland had two actual brothers on opposite sides of the net in the region final.

Top-seeded Clarke and Layne Meek cruised past No. 2 Mack Meek and Justin Lucas.

“It was different,” Layne said. “I thought they came out and did well. It’s been great playing with Parker. We have some good wins and are still studying for the test (state tournament).”

Clarke enjoys the brotherhood on the team.

“It’s been awesome, the best year yet,” he said. “Some of the new guys I’ve gotten to know on the road trips. We’ve been trying to grind every day, put in the work. Coach has really pushed us this year.”

Clarke ramped up his tennis regimen and schedule leading into his junior year. In February, Clarke went on a run and won three USTA tournaments with different doublespartners in Louisville and Lexington.

“Parker and Layne are a complement to each other,” Sizemore said. “Layne has that whipping topspin forehand to go with a lefty serve and Parker is all over the net.”

Ashland scored 16 in winning its 14th region team championship in 18 years under Sizemore’s direction. Rowan County and East Carter scored seven apiece to tie for second, with Rowan County taking the tiebreaker.

Meanwhile, Russell’s girls made it six region titles in a row.

“We were really excited to win that team title this year,” Lady Devilscoach Larra Ferguson said.

“I’m pleased how our girls worked. We go outside the region and play a lot of matches that help get us ready.”

The highly successful doubles team of sisters Maci and Mia Ferguson will be playing in their first state tournament as partners after beating East Carter’s Makenzie and Maria Hayes 6-0, 6-1 for the region title.

“Mia was nervous going into the match,” Maci said of the freshman. “Sometimes she plays better that way because she focuses.”

Mia praised her older sister.

“She always steady, always consistent,” Mia said. “I love the net. Maci set me up and I could get the shot.”

Earlier in the tournament, senior Hannah Blaine and junior Katlynn Shumway each contributed two points to Russell’s 12 total. Ashland was next with 10 and East Carter had eight.

Greenup County junior Madison Hill defeated Ashland’s Emma Hill 6-1, 6-4 for the singles championship.

“Emma’s a good player,” said Madison, who turned 17 last week. “She was there the whole time, especially the second set.”

Three years ago, Madison Hill won her first region singles title as an eighth-grader. She was runner-up the past two years.

“This one’s better than the first,” she said. “Beating Ashland at Ashland always feels good.”

However, Greenup County’s Hill said she was feeling so good during the match.

“I had to take a medial timeout because I was having a lot of stomach problems,” she said.

Hill, who has been ranked No. 1 in Kentucky’s 16s, had surgery on her right (swinging) hand last October after shattering a knuckle playing powder puff football.

“I couldn’t play tennis for nine weeks,” she said. “I’m happy to be where I am now. The state tournament is my favorite. The energy is so great there.”





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