2018-11-09 / Sports

One last flight for Falcon seniors

By Mike Maddock

A.C. Flora head girls tennis coach Amy Martin gets one more chance at a state title with a group of seniors who have seemingly been with the program since the Bush administration.

Those seniors include Raquel Acco, Megan Pleasant, Elise Sandlin, Breland Gann, and Caroline Coble. Together, they have a combined 23 seasons of experience with the Falcon varsity program and have dominated South Carolina 3A and 4A tennis for the better part of this decade.

Pleasant is the team’s “elder spokesperson.” She joined the varsity team in 2013 and has been the Falcons’ No. 2 since 2014. Acco transferred from Richland Northeast in 2014, grabbed the No. 1 spot on A.C. Flora’s ladder as an eighth grader, and has been there ever since. Sandlin also joined the varsity as an eighth grader and has been playing at No. 3 since 2016. Breland Gann played doubles for the Falcons with fellow freshman Caroline Coble in 2015, and has occupied the No. 4 or 5 spot on the ladder since 2016. Coble remains the anchor of the No. 2 doubles team.

These seniors will leave the A.C. Flora program with six straight region titles, two Upper State titles, and one Lower State title, but the big one has eluded them.

When asked if she or her team would be satisfied without adding a state title to their resume, Martin simply replied, “NO.”

The Lady Falcons won the Lower State Championship last season but fell in the final to Greenville. In 2015, the Falcons lost to Myrtle Beach in the state championship match, and this year they will face Hilton Head in their final quest to win it all.

The opponents change, but the Falcons keep coming back.

“I feel like A.C. Flora is a constant in talent, depth, and supporting each other,” says Martin. “We win with dignity, lose with dignity, make fair calls, and they respect and support my decisions— that is constant. Sometimes you run up against a team who may or may not play to that level, and sometimes things just don’t fall your way.

“Until I saw Megan’s face last November when we lost, I did not realize the depth of her pain she felt for her team. She knew with a little more work, it was a match we could have won. She and a few others had about a ten minute pity party, then got to work, and are ready to play Saturday.”

If regular season and tournament performance are good indicators, then Falcon fans have reason to be optimistic this time around.

This group of seniors along with eighth graders Frances Smith and Siona Sturgeon went 15-0 through a regular season schedule, over half of which was against Class 5A competition. They won the Belton tournament for the first time in 30 years, and have barely broken a sweat in this year’s state tournament so far.

The Falcons won each of their first two matches 6-0 against Eastside and Belton-Honea Path losing a combined 11 games in 23 sets of action. Against Daniel in the Upper State Championship, Acco, Pleasant, and Sandlin got tested a bit, but all won in straight sets, and the rest of the Falcons won handily to take the match 6-0.

Taking all matches into consideration, this team is now 106-2. Acco has the two losses but still has a very impressive 14-2 record playing No. 1, the toughest spot on the ladder.

Now comes the elusive state title. The Falcons will face Hilton Head Island Saturday, November 10, at 10 a.m. at the Lexington County Tennis Complex.

Martin had to wait until Wednesday night to find out whether her Falcons would face Hartsville or Hilton Head. She says she’s not sure if not knowing the opponent until later is good or bad, but she knows her team.

“I do feel this 2 Dubs has more experience as we began work with them early August, instead of trying different teams. With Raquel, Megan, and Elise playing so well at the top, and Frances and Breland at 4 and 5, it’s one of the deepest lineups we have had in years. They want it; it left a bitter taste last year, and playing so many other schools, 4A and 5A, and only dropping two courts, has given them nothing but confidence.”

Win or lose, no one can deny what Acco, Pleasant, Sandlin, Gann, and Coble have meant to A.C. Flora girls tennis over these many years. Martin will also bid farewell after this season to to other Falcon seniors Maddie Kirkland, Lee McCutcheon, Suzanne Moorman, and Eliza Salley.

“Not to sound cliché, but really no words can express what they have brought to the program,” Martin says. “Being around them day in and day out for almost four months out of the year, you get to know and respect each other, have fun, and work hard. I will miss my captains a bunch—always bounce ideas off them. They can always talk to me about team issues, player issues...whatever. They know what I need before I ask, what I am going to say, etc. It’s been a win-win for all.”

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