Danielle Vines will turn 15 on Aug. 31. This morning she will play for an 18-and-under state tennis championship.
Vines, from Elizabethton, defeated second-seeded Anna Feaster of Knoxville 7-6(3), 6-3 in the Tennessee State Junior Qualifying singles semifinals Tuesday at the Champions Club. Her opponent in the Girls' 18s final at 10:30 a.m. will be Franklin's Iris Hao, who won 6-2, 6-2 against Chattanooga's Harper Caswell in a matchup of No. 5 seeds.
Vines is seeded fourth. She's also in the 16s doubles final at 8 a.m. with Claire Sullivan of Memphis. They're the top seeds. Sullivan was the top seed in 16s singles but lost to No. 4 Skylar McDonald of Fayetteville, the Class A/AA high school state champion who plays No. 2 Josie Rogers of Kingsport for that age-group championship.
The top two singles seeds in Boys' 16s, Steven Karl of Brentwood and Michael Apple of Memphis, will face off after having downed the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds in the semifinals. That's likewise in Boys' 18s with No. 1 Jarryd Woog of Lakeland meeting No. 2 Andrew Graham of Nashville.
"I've been playing all 18s for almost the past year," said the 5-foot-10 Vines, explaining that was to get quality competition on a regular basis without traveling so far, instead of flying around the country to face top-level opposition in 14s again or 16s.
She played in 14s in the Southern sectionals the past two years.
Feaster recently won the Division II-A prep state championship but lost to Vines in a meeting in Knoxville a month or so ago.
"She's a really good player. It took everything I had to beat her," Vines said. "She's very fast and gets to a lot of balls, and she also attacks the net. She's very solid all-around.
"And she's very nice. She's one of my friends and very fun to play against."
Chattanooga's Samantha Caswell was seeded first in 18s and won the Division II-AA state title. She lost to Vines in a three-set match in the Winter Southern in Knoxville, so the Elizabethton left-hander's success the past few days is no fluke. She has been home-schooled the last two years but will be attending Elizabethton High School this year as a 10th-grader.
Bristol Country Club professional Steve Brooks has been Vines' coach since she took up tennis at 9 years old. Working with her from the beginning, he said Monday, he has been able to guide her development from one year to the next as if she were stepping up a grade in school.
"She was No. 1 in the South in 10s but then moved up to 12s, and it was a different feeling," Brooks said. "Then she worked on new things and moved up to No. 1 in the South in 12s, and then No. 1 in 14s, and now she's about to the middle of that level in 18s. I've had a plan for her [to keep adding to her game], and she's done it. She's worked at it, and I'm happy for her."
Likely the top 12 in each age group in state qualifying will move on to the Southern sectionals -- the 18s at Mobile, Ala.; the 16s at Rome, Ga. -- so Vines doesn't have to win today. She intends to, however.
"Oh, yes," she said, eyes brightening. "I want to win every match that I can."
But a key to her success is not trying to do more than she can. As she put it, "I just try to play average every match, doing what I know I can do."
Said Brooks: "She wants to play how she normally plays, day in and day out. It's like someone who runs a 6-minute mile not trying to run one in 5:30."
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.
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