MGCCC Tennis prepares for NJCAA National Championships

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 11:02 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PERKINSTON, Miss. (WLOX) - The calendar has turned to May, which means the NJCAA Division I Tennis National Championships are here.

Both the Mississippi Gulf Coast teams are heading to Texas after sporting identical 14-5 records in 2023.

The Women’s team kicks things off on Saturday in Tyler, Texas while the Men’s side brings their region championship team McKinney, Texas on May 15.

“We’re excited for the experience, and I genuinely think we’re ready,” St. Martin alum Bayley Askin said. “Coach has been working us hard to get us ready for them.”

German standout Paul Gayk added, “We’re all looking forward to it and maybe hope that we can surprise a lot of people.”

Despite falling in the Region 23 Championship, the girls team has won six of their last seven matches, a feat that gives them confidence heading to Tyler.

“The ladies are a special group,” head coach Sam Blackburn said. “This is my third full season, so I’ve been with a lot of these girls for two years now, and it’s really special for me.”

Zimbabwe native Tanya Kaome gave her thoughts as the national tournament approaches, “It’s more mental now. A lot of teams have made it here. We can all play the same ball, we can all hit the ball, we can all play very good tennis, but it comes down to who’s stronger mentally.”

Teamwork makes the dream work and that’s evident with the Men’s team who have won their last six matches including the Region 23 Championship over Jones.

“Guys get to go back. They’ve earned their way,” Blackburn said. “Winning the Region Championship after coming in second conference shows that they bounce back from any adversity. They came in second earlier in the year. They didn’t like that. They responded by winning the Region tournament.”

Long Beach alum Anderson Dulaney reflected on the region title, “It was amazing. We’ve practiced every day and we’ve worked hard, and we had to use our energy most of all to beat Jones.”

Everything is bigger in Texas including the spotlight on the tennis courts. Only a select few can be crowned national champions but one things for certain, the Bulldogs are going to give it everything they have.

“Success for me in Texas would be for me to see the guys and girls leave everything they have on the court in every match they play, whether they win or lose, those things are going to take care of themselves. But if they’re just leaving it all out there and they’re playing for each other, even though it’s more of kind of an individual thing out there, if they’re still playing for the team, good things will happen, and that’s really just what I expect,” Blackburn said.

“If we won Nationals, that’d be amazing,” Dulaney said. “We’re not even supposed to win Nationals, but if we go out there and give it our all, I think we could do something.”

“A national title would be awesome,” stated Askin. We’d be a pretty well-known team if we had a national title here, we really would. It’d be really cool.”

Many of the graduating athletes expressed gratitude for one another and said they will miss their coaches and teammates more than anything.

For now, it’s one last dance in Texas.

Click here to subscribe to WLOX News on YouTube: Keep up with South Mississippi news, sports, and local events on our YouTube channel!