NICHOLASVILLE — Being the No. 4 seed in a draw of 64 at the KHSAA state tennis championships is a delicate balance.

Given that matching spot in their respective brackets, Thursday’s opening-round goals for Scott County singles star Olivia Gallagher and the doubles duo of Grace Gardner and Raven Jones were similar.

Take care of business, but don’t lose sight of the week’s long-term goals. Try not to expend too much energy, but avoid feeding any bad habits.

The 11th Region champions were able to say mission accomplished after their first two workouts at Top Seed Tennis Club.

Gallagher needed little more than an hour, combined, to finish Emma Calfee of Pulaski County and Carlyn McCreary of West Jessamine, each in 6-0, 6-0 fashion.

“I thought I stayed focused pretty well,” Gallagher said. “Those are easy matches to lose focus, so I thought I played well, and I’m looking forward to [Friday].”

The sophomore stayed on track in the second-day shift to Boone Tennis Center at the University of Kentucky, dispatching Samantha Spady of Corbin, 6-4, 6-0, to reach the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year.

She wasn't done.

Saturday’s semifinal and championship rounds have been elusive to Gallagher over the years. 

Her showdown against No. 5 Amanda Miller of Lexington Catholic took care of that detail. Gallagher backed up her victory in the 11th Region title match with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph.

Gallagher will take on No. 2 Ellie Eades of Sacred Heart, last year's runner-up, at 9 a.m. Saturday. The championship is set for 2 p.m. Both matches are scheduled for UK's Boone Tennis Center.

Gardner and Jones, a partnership that wasn’t forged until mere days before they were crowned SC’s first-ever regional doubles champions, breezed through the opening day in similar fashion.

They trounced the Bullitt East tandem of Megan Weihe and Madison Zimheld without losing a game, then ousted Maddie Morgan and Chasie Phelps of Caldwell County, 6-2, 6-0.

“It was just about getting warmed up and getting our nerves out in the first match,” Gardner, a junior, said. “[Second round] we had a little more competition. I think we had to keep playing aggressive together and at the net.”

SC's doubles tandem fell in the third round.

Henry Clay's freshman tandem of Kennedy Herring and Gabby Kauffmann avenged a loss in the region final with a monumental comeback and a 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 1-0 (10-6) win.

"We were up a set and 4-0 in the second set but could not finish," Scott County coach Zan Rexroat said.

Gallagher faced a region championship rematch in the quarterfinal for the second straight year.

The arrangement was an ill-fated one last spring. After defeating Lauren Waddles of Lexington Christian a week earlier at regions, a hobbled Gallagher fell in straight sets.

“Obviously last year wasn’t ideal, but it motivates me even more for this year,” Gallagher said. “I’m excited and ready.”

No singles seeds were upset on their way to the round of 16. 

Gallagher’s work to win the title is cut out for her. Both of last year’s finalists are back in the draw. 

They’re not surprisingly the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and amazingly enough, each is a sophomore from the same school.

“It it is on to Eades, then her No. 1 teammate and defending champion Carrie Beckman, if Olivia makes the final,” Rexroat said. “Olivia just finished second to Beckman in the Creason USTA state qualifier tournament last weekend.”

Beckman’s prospective semifinal opponent is Sophia Shiben of McCracken County.

Between in-state tournament and national events throughout the southeast, where Gallagher is one of the premier players in her age group, she can recite their exploits chapter and verse.

“I’m familiar with everyone, so I know their games, and they know mine,” Gallagher said. “I’m pretty confident because I know them pretty well, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Gardner reached the semifinals each of the past two years with Lauren Moore.

After Moore’s graduation, SC’s doubles entry in the big tournaments was a work in progress until the last minute.

“We really haven’t played together much,” Gardner said. “Region was one of the first times we played together. We won region, luckily, and each match we just kind of get to know each other better and talk and improve.”

Both players were outstanding at net as the Lady Cards’ tandem broke two of the Caldwell combo’s first three service games to set the tone.

“Just play my game,” Jones, a sophomore, said of her role. “Grace calms me down a lot throughout the matches. We work together well.”

Rexroat was disappointed that Gardner and Jones had to play Herring and Kauffmann in the round of 16.

“It seems to me, since we won our region, we should not have to win it again in the state until at least the final four,” the coach said. “Weak regions have one team qualify all of their entries, and since they are from the same school, they are placed in opposite halves of the draw so they avoid each other until the finals.  

“Region 11 is a strong region with four or five strong teams. Under the current system, it is possible to play a team in the finals of the regional tournament and then turn around and play them in the first round of the state tournament. But, oh well, it is what it is, and we play the bracket we are given.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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