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JCHS tennis has strong showing in district tourney

The JCHS tennis team wrapped up their season with a strong run in the district tournament earlier this month. A two-day event that took place in Elizabethton, the Longhorns had several competitors on the courts both in singles matches and in doubles. Playing against some of the toughest competition in the conference, Johnson County held its own, winning several sets and almost gaining an all Longhorn finals match.

Senior Ryan Whitener pulled out a close win on his first match to move on against Unicoi’s top seed, Conley Shultz. Whitener put up a good fight and had a solid chance to move into the finals, but was cut short in his second set against Shultz. Fellow senior Timmy Bellamy was able to avenge Whitener’s defeat in the final round Friday morning by pulling off a huge upset against Shultz that ultimately gave Johnson County the championship.

“It’s the first time since 2000 that we’ve won the district,” said head coach Steve Nave. “We’ve finished second a bunch but we finally got over the hump. Timmy had to play really well to win it. He got down in the last set, but came back. It was a very good match against a very tough opponent. Conley had beaten him earlier in the year, so it was a very tight match, but he just came through.”
In fact, after going six and one, Bellamy’s loss to Shultz in the regular season was his only defeat this year, making his narrow victory for the district championship that much sweeter.  “It felt pretty good,” Bellamy said about the win. “It didn’t really sink in how important it was until afterward, when everyone was giving me congratulations, even people I didn’t know. Conley beat me in the regular season 9-7, and I was pretty upset, but it felt very good to finally get revenge. It was close.”
Bellamy has been one of the Longhorn’s most successful and consistent players, but even Coach Nave admitted he was a little nervous as Timmy took the court against Unicoi. “I believed he could do it but there was always that doubt when you face somebody like that in the championships,” Nave said. “I knew he had a shot and I knew it would be between those two. He got down and then brought it back and ended up winning in a tiebreaker to keep it from going to another set. It was tough. The last time we had an individual win was with Adam Cornett in 2000. The way things had gone the last couple of years we would always get there and just not make it over the hump. Timmy had to win three matches and he also beat Elizabethton’s number one. He played one on Thursday and then two on Friday.”

When asked what made the difference this season, Nave attributed much of it to Bellamy’s attitude and his motivation to win. “He is playing very smart,” Nave said. “I was amazed at how smart he has played all year too. That’s something that’s hard to teach and you’ve just got to learn it over time. I would say that was his biggest asset. Last year he was strong, but I told him before the season that he would have a very good shot at winning the district. I think that lit him up a little bit and he took it a lot more serious. He practiced hard and I think him knowing he had a shot was enough to get him motivated.”

Yet Bellamy was not the only member of the Longhorn’s team to show improvement this year. Along with Whitener, Travis and Mitchell Stockinger also went on to win their first round in the district tournament in doubles, while several other players had very close matches that could have gone either way. “I’m proud of every one of them,” Nave said. “This is the most progress we’ve ever made in a single season since I’ve been doing this. This is one of the best groups of seniors I’ve ever had and I will really miss them. Joey Porter, Diedre Blackburn, Travis Stockinger, Ryan Whitener, Karissa Cornett, they’re all just a great bunch of kids.”

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