The Cartersville girls tennis team got over the quarterfinal hurdle last spring with its first trip to the Final Four since 2005. This year, the Canes looked set to return at least that far and possibly challenge for their first state finals appearance since that group who won it all 15 years ago.
With no seniors in last season’s starting lineup, Cartersville’s run to the semifinals appeared to be a precursor for an even better 2020 campaign. It was shaping up that way until the COVID-19 outbreak completely shut down what seemed destined to be a truly historic season.
“There’s really no words to explain the heartbreak, disgust and anything else that you can come up with,” Canes head coach Brett Tolbert said of the season being canceled. “The seniors, Ashley [Popham] and Lydia [Wiedetz], they worked so hard for this year, knowing what we accomplished last season. The underclassmen, they were trying hard not to let down the seniors, because they knew how much it meant to them. …
“It’s heartbreaking for everybody.”
Cartersville was undefeated through the early portion of the season with easy Region 5-AAAA wins over Sandy Creek, Central, Carroll and Cedartown. The team’s final match of the year wound up being a 3-2 win over Bartow County rival and future region foe Woodland.
Although Popham, a Mercer signee, and Wiedetz will be gone next season, the Canes should still be strong.
Rising junior Emily Bush is a capable No. 1. Alice Terry will be missing her doubles partner Wiedetz, but she should remain a good option for either singles or doubles. Line 2 doubles pairing Mason Cline and Mia Shaw will only continue to improve. They could possibly take over the Line 1 doubles spot next year. Line 3 singles player Chloe Satterfield will also return, and Tolbert said at least one promising middle schooler should join the varsity mix next season.
“I think they’ll carry a chip on their shoulder for the seniors,” Tolbert said of his returning players. “That’s going to be one of the driving forces.”
Just like the girls team, the Cartersville boys were unbeaten through their first four matches of the year. The Canes were having to shuffle the lineup a bit this season, but Tolbert felt as though the team was starting to find its rhythm, which had been thrown off partly by substantial rainfall early in the year.
In singles play, Luke Kottemann had taken over the top line from graduate Will Allen, but senior John Blackhall was challenging Kottemann for the spot. Sophomore Luke Gambill had settled into the Line 3 singles role. The Line 1 doubles pairing of Robert Novak and Nate McDonald had been working well together, while Jackson Cline had been steady on the second line with whomever he was playing alongside.
“They were peaking at the right time,” Tolbert said of the boys team. “They were on the right track to make a deep run again this year. Their opportunity got cut short, as well.”
Blackhall wasn’t the only Cartersville boys player to see his senior year end in disappointing fashion. Logan Cagle, Harold Mackey, Robby Poston and Griffin Shaw also saw their final high school season cut short, although they did all manage to get in the win column before the abbreviated campaign came to a close.
With hopes of two deep postseason runs dashed, Tolbert was left to contemplate what might have been.
“I think we were stronger this year than we were last year,” he said, referring to the girls team. “Everybody worked hard over the offseason. They were bigger and stronger and probably more fit than they were last year. They were ready to go out and make it to the finals.
“It was a sad year to happen when it was a year we were looking forward to — both boys and girls.”
As difficult as it is, Tolbert has already started looking ahead to next season. He’ll bring back essentially five of seven starters on both the girls and boys teams. However, those returnees (as well as the incoming freshman and promoted JV players) will enter into a much tougher region.
Joining the new region along with the Canes are Blessed Trinity and Calhoun, which are both perennially strong in tennis.
The Titans boys and girls teams each finished second in their loaded region last year, while both Yellow Jackets teams won region championships. All four teams lost in the second round of state but suffered basically the same fate playoff fate as the Cartersville girls, bowing out to an eventual state runner-up.
That should make for an exciting season, but Tolbert will still be thinking back on some players he wish could experience it.
“We’ll continue the rivalry with Blessed Trinity, because we seem to meet them in the first or second round [of the state tournament], then you throw Calhoun into the mix,” Tolbert said. “It’s going to be a fun season next year, but I’m going to miss the seniors from this year. I wish we could have them back again.”