BY ALL GREGORY BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Earlier in the season, tennis player Ava Deckard of the Lebanon Pioneers simply wanted to qualify for the state tournament for the first time.
This morning at Virginia Tech, the Lebanon senior can make school history.
On Friday afternoon, Deckard secured a spot in the Class 1 Finals with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) decision over Buffalo Gap’s Emma Maxwell.
“I don’t know if any player from my school has ever made it this far, but I know it means a lot to me to win,” said Deckard.
According to Lebanese coach Troy Moore, Deckard is the first woman from Lebanon to reach the state tennis finals in program history.
The key for Deckard in Friday’s heat was consistency along with a commanding two-handed backhand.
“It was one of the most intense matches I’ve ever played in,” said Deckard, who was behind in both sets. “I just had to get past my opponent.”
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Deckard’s journey to Virginia Tech has included countless training sessions against her brother, Lebanese tennis player Alec Deckard.
“Yeah, it’s handy to have a brother to punch at,” Ava said.
What about the deckard backhand?
“I like it a lot better than my forehand,” Deckard said. “I owe it all to Coach Moore.”
Lebanon also won a girls’ team tennis title for the first time in 29 years this spring with four newcomers in the line-up.
“It’s been a great season,” Moore said. “Ava always pushes hard in training and never gives up in games. She is super competitive and it showed today.”
It will be an All-Southwest Virginia final in Class 1 singles as Deckard will face off against George Wythe’s Maggie Minton.
Minton, a junior, defeated Middlesex’s Madison Green 6-0, 6-1 on Friday but that was only part of the story.
Shortly before the singles title championship at the Mountain Empire District, Minton suffered a hamstring injury in her right leg and lost her first match of the season.
“I was absolutely devastated when the doctor said my hamstring had partially torn and I felt like I couldn’t play anymore,” Minton said.
Minton said she got 70% healthy through the Regionals.
“And because of the injury, I was really nervous going into tonight’s game,” said Minton. “I’m just happy that I’ve made it this far. I iced my leg and will ice it again on Saturday.”
It was also a memorable day for John Battle senior Nathan Spurling, John Battle junior Briggs Crabtree and rookie Parker White Marion.
The towering tandem of Spurling and Crabtree earned a 6-3, 6-2 decision in the Class 2 doubles final. It was Crabtree’s fourth state medal, counting his doubles championship last year and last two team crowns for Battle.
“It was a great match and it’s an amazing feeling,” Crabtree said. “I used to come to the state tournament to see my two older brothers and I always wanted to play out there and fight for a state title.”
Crabtree said he keeps his medals in a special place in his room.
“My brothers used to get caught against tough opponents in the finals, so I’m the only one in my family who’s won the state,” Crabtree said. “Nathan and I were out and about today. We communicated and played our best tennis.”
White also played at a high level en route to a 6-1, 6-0 win over Central Woodstock’s Erika Hutton.
“That score definitely doesn’t say how close the game actually was. We had long points and went to Deuce in most of our games,” White said.
One of the keys for White was research as she also faced Hutton in Thursday’s doubles semi-final.
“I needed to see how she played and the different types of balls she hits, so I came up with a game plan,” White said.
The plan for the 6-foot-6 Spurling in singles was dominance as he drove to a 6-1, 6-0 win over Riverheads’ Cayden Swats. Spurling controlled the net and pulled off one of the most impressive shots of the last two days with a save behind the head
“My height and arm span help me a lot, especially when it comes to hitting high balls,” Spurling said. “After playing singles in the heat it was difficult to come back for doubles but I was happy with how I played all day.
“Briggs and I have the same (low-key) personality. We know what we have to do and we just try. It would mean anything to get another medal with individual wins and I will do my best.”
Deckard will fight for the same prize.
“My goal was just to be on top,” Deckard said. “I don’t know about my opponent on Saturday, but I had the same situation today and it worked. I have fun.”
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