published Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Kylila Tucker wants team to go to state with her

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    Signal Mountain tennis player Kylila Tucker warms up Thursday at the tennis courts in Signal Mountain.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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GIRLS' TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Baylor: The Lady Red Raiders return their entire lineup from the three-time defending Division II-AA state champions.

2. Boyd-Buchanan: The Lady Bucs return most of their lineup from the Region 3-A/AA champions.

3. GPS: The Bruisers lost three players from the Division II-AA state runners-up but return a solid core.

BOYS' TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Dalton: The Catamounts are off to a solid start this season, having not lost to an in-state opponent.

2. McCallie: The Blue Tornado lost only two of their top six from the Division II-AA state semifinalists.

3. Notre Dame: The Irish return their entire team from the Class A/AA state semifinalists.

GIRLS' PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Samantha Caswell, Baylor: The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga signee is the two-time defending Division II-AA state champion.

2. Michelle Fleenor, GPS: The Washington and Lee signee was one-half of the Division II-AA state doubles champions.

3. Kylila Tucker, Signal Mountain: She was the Class A/AA state singles runner-up in 2013.

BOYS' PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Charles Jabaley, Notre Dame: He was the Region 4-A/AA runner-up last season.

2. Marko Mandic, Baylor: He played No. 1 singles for the Red Raiders and has a doubles state championship during his career.

3. Blake Savard, Grace Academy: He was a Class A/AA state quarterfinalist who went 17-1 last season.

Kylila Tucker fell one match short of obtaining a state tennis singles championship last season, and while she hopes to have another opportunity to get back to Murfreesboro, she's hoping she can bring a few of her friends with her this year.

The Signal Mountain senior was the Class A/AA state runner-up in 2013, falling to Fayetteville's Skyler McDonald in the championship match. She didn't win a game in the finals, which has stuck with her over the offseason. As a result, she started playing in a lot more USTA tournaments in trying to get more used to pressure-packed atmospheres, and she feels better heading into this year.

"It was a disappointing end to the season, but overall I had a good, positive season," Tucker said Thursday. "There was definitely a lot to learn from and build on."

She said that in years past, she wouldn't play much tennis once the school season ended -- aside from some in-town tournaments -- but decided to travel the state and play in more competitive atmospheres last the summer.

"She invested a lot over the summer," Signal coach Renato Mizutani said. "She went to a lot more tournaments, and being a senior, she really wants to finish her high school career in a positive way. These first few matches will be very good to analyze and see if she's on the right track.

"Every year is another pressure, but she's playing the best tennis of her career now. She just has to play to that potential in matches."

Said Tucker: "Every match I was in, the level of competition is high. I really worked on my rallies and serving, but it was good because I was mostly under pressure in each match I was in."

Tucker hopes this season that she can help her team experience a similar type of success. Life is never easy in 7-A/AA, as the Lady Eagles' main rivals -- Chattanooga Christian and Notre Dame -- have won the last two state team championships. Signal lost three of its top six players, so that task won't be easy, but Tucker hopes the team's ability to play in a more pressure-type atmosphere, which is what the CCS/Signal and Notre Dame/Signal matches typically are, will help get the Lady Eagles over the hump and into the postseason as a group.

"I'm not looking at the schedule. I'm just taking things on a match-to-match basis," Tucker said.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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