Cass girls tennis coach Sydney Hughes didn’t want this season to be canceled. But if given the choice between having her 2020 or 2021 seasons cut short, Hughes wouldn’t hesitate to choose this year.
That’s the luxury of being a coach this spring on a team with zero seniors.
“This was probably the best year for this to happen to me,” Hughes said. “For some other schools, it wasn’t. It was their chance, because they had seniors they could play. You hate that for seniors. …
“[If it happened] next year, when I have a lot of seniors, I would just feel so bad for them.”
Hughes, though, did admit that the match experience her players missed out on is disappointing to see.
“It hurt us a bit, because you hate it for the kids,” she said. “They worked so hard, and they want to play in these matches. I just think the experience was just going to help them this year, going into next year, when I’m going to have some seniors and juniors.”
As it is, Hughes can look forward to next season with plenty of optimism.
With standout Emily Surcey set to return after taking this year off to train individually, it’s possible Hughes could have three seniors on the singles lines next spring. Add in a couple of talented rising sophomores, who teamed up on Line 1 doubles during this abbreviated year, and a promising incoming ninth-grader, and the Colonels should be a tough out in the new six-team Region 7-AAAAA.
“I think we can do really well if things stay how they’re supposed to be,” Hughes said. “Right now, Emily is coming back, but even if she didn’t, in the new region, not having had any seniors, we would be ready.”
Overall, Cass only managed to play four matches this season. Heavy rainfall early in the year forced several postponements. In fact, the Colonels were set to play four matches the week after the season was initially shut down.
The team hadn’t seen much success in the win column, but Hughes said she could see improvement. In the end, the Colonels were unlikely to make up for the loss of Surcey this year, so starting from scratch next season isn’t a bad consolation.
“It wasn’t the worst thing for us,” Hughes said of the cancellation. “It was going to be tough, because of having to bump everybody up. You take people out of their positions, it kind of hurts you. It was helping them in a way, as far as getting really good experience. I think next year, we’ll be very competitive.”
While the Cass girls would have probably been waiting until next year to be challenging for a playoff berth even without a shortened season, the boys team felt like it had a chance to possibly sneak into the state tournament this spring.
“We were looking to be right there in the hunt,” Colonels boys coach Jason Arnold said. “We, obviously, weren’t going to be first or second, but we were looking for that No. 4 spot. We had three kids who had taken lessons during the offseason, which is almost imperative to do if you’re going to be competitive. I hate that they didn’t get to play out their season since they worked so hard in the offseason.”
Arnold found out Bartow County would be closing schools and canceling athletic events on the way to his team’s match against Hiram March 12. He nearly turned the bus around, but after speaking with Cass athletic director Nicky Moore, Arnold got assurance that the Colonels could play out what became their final match.
While it did offer a finality to the season than most teams were unable to get, Arnold was still upset to see his two seniors have to go through such an unprecedented situation.
“Everything for them is rough,” he said. “This is probably the worst year ever to be a senior in high school. As far as sports goes, all athletes are supposed to peak their senior year. That’s when they’re supposed to lead the team. They didn’t get the opportunity to do that.
“I hate it for them. It’s heartbreaking. It really is.”
However, Arnold does hope this experience serves as a lesson for his younger players. They might not have lost their senior season, but when that time does come, there’s always the possibility of an injury (or even another global pandemic) cutting it short.
As such, Arnold doesn’t want his players to only be looking ahead to their senior season, and instead, they should treat every year that way.
“You have to work hard every year, because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Arnold said. “… You can’t wait. You have to put in the work. You can’t assume when you’re a senior that you’re going to be better than everybody else, because you’re not. It’s the person who works the hardest who is going to be the best.”