published Monday, May 19th, 2014

Baylor girls' tennis looks to end as champions

After this week, there will be no more trips on the back of the bus for the Baylor girls' tennis seniors.

The Lady Red Raiders' five-player senior class of Harper Caswell, Samantha Caswell, Maggie Crumbliss, McCall Morgan and Grace Petty -- quite possibly the most decorated class in the history of the program -- is in their final week as a team, with one goal in mind: another team state championship.

Moments after the 2011 title, which was their fifth at the time and first since 2000, Maggie Crumbliss said that the goal was to win four consecutive team titles. They've neared that mark with three, and are two wins from drawing even with Ravenwood and Knoxville Webb for second all-time in consecutive championships. Both of those schools are in the state tournament as well.

Chattanooga Christian won four consecutive on two occasions: from 1999-2002 and 2005-2008. St. Mary's holds the record with five straight from 1988-1992.

It would be the Lady Red Raiders' eighth title if they won, which would tie them with CCS for third-most all-time. Knoxville Webb is first with 10, while Baylor's chief rival GPS -- who is also in the state semifinals -- has nine.

The seniors enter tomorrow's Division II-AA state semifinal matchup with Harpeth Hall with a five-year record of 63-4. Three of those losses came against GPS when the core were eighth-graders; the other against Ransom Everglades out of Florida in the finals of the Decoturf National Championship this season. In between those losses was a 45-match win streak, and the core won three consecutive Decoturf championships and four Rotary Invitational titles.

It hasn't been easy at times. They've been through the rigors and wars against a GPS team that, during the Lady Red Raiders' run, has been every bit the second-best team in the state; battles in the Decoturf, which in winning the 2013 took wins from Samantha Caswell and McCall Morgan after their opponent, Jenks (Okla.), had taken a 4-3 edge in the championship match. Such experiences have seasoned the team, though.

"When we were eighth-graders and freshmen, it was different because we'd never experienced winning before," Morgan said. "This time we know what it's like, so if we win this week, we'll obviously be excited, but it'll be different. It's going to be a really emotional week; it's our time to go, so we know it's for the best, but we're still upset about it.

"Another championship would be a good close to our five years."

But five years have definitely brought forth some great memories.

"My favorite memory would have to be going to PF Changs after we won Decoturf our freshman year," Samantha Caswell said. "It was about 11 at night, and we were all real excited, and laughing at something. I don't even remember what it was, but we were so excited and screaming that we were almost kicked out of the restaurant.

"I'm sure the entire restaurant was annoyed at us, but we were excited we'd won and didn't care. It's how we've always been; I couldn't imagine how high school would have gone without the tennis team. We're not just friends on the tennis court; we hang out at school and eat lunch together. It's going to be hard to start over next year because of all of these memories -- we've grown up together since eighth grade. We've changed and look so different from then to now, but I hadn't even noticed it."

Three of the five seniors will be playing collegiately next season: Samantha Caswell at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; her twin sister Harper at Furman University; and Crumbliss at Sewanee. Morgan will be attending the University of Virginia while Petty will go to Boston University.

The team has prided themselves on the team concept. It hasn't been nearly as exciting that Samantha has won back-to-back individual singles state titles, or that transfer Sanja Brkovic won the 2011 singles championship. It's been a concept put in place by director of tennis Ned Caswell and head coach Dustin Kane, who has been the head coach since the seniors were eighth-graders.

"There hasn't been a team I've coached that these five seniors haven't been a part of, so next year is going to be different," Kane said. "They've provided a lot of leadership, so it will be neat to find out which one of the younger girls will step up and fill the role of those leaving. It'll be similar to when these five were eighth-graders. This run has been pretty amazing, to basically have no hiccups and be able to be solid for five straight years is an impressive achievement. They had a very narrow focus on what they wanted and they really didn't detour; to maintain that for five years is impressive for sure."

Said Samantha Caswell: "Winning this year would still be just as exciting because we're adding another one. We said our freshman year that we wanted four, so we need this one. If we win this year it'll be even more exciting because it's the last one, and we certainly wouldn't want to go out without winning another championship."

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

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