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Lady Panthers Fall To Methodist; Donnett: “We Played With All Heart”

He doesn’t fault his team or even double-fault his tennis team.

Matt Donnett knows quite well where the Lady Panthers are in the rebuilding process.

“We’re young, and we only have one senior (Denney Meigs). We’re having a great building year. The sky is the limit, and we do have some competitive fire,” said Donnett, the LaGrange College women’s tennis coach.

The Lady Panthers are having a winning season this spring. But LaGrange College did experience a tennis “downer” on Thursday afternoon in a 9-0 defeat to Methodist University in the first round of the USA South Conference Tournament at the McCluskey Center.

It was not a fitting end to the season for the Lady Panthers. They wanted so much more from the conference tournament, but LaGrange College did not get it.

“We have a good group of girls. They work hard every day. But we ran into a better team. Methodist is just deeper, and they are solid from top to bottom. We played with all heart,” said Donnett, the former Troup High tennis star (1989-92).

The Methodist Lady Monarchs, the USA South regular season champions, picked up where they left off come tournament time. The team from Fayetteville, N.C. began the first round match by sweeping the Lady Panthers in doubles play.

LaGrange College was nervous, and it showed with the serves. The Lady Panthers had a hard time putting the ball in play, much less winning points in the doubles matches.

“We can play better. We were not in position, and this was a pressure match,” said LaGrange College freshman Jenna Eppes, who played at No. 1 doubles with Elizabeth Knott.

Eppes and Knott dropped a 2-8 match to the Methodist University team of Sam Munze and Jenna Landis. Knott and Eppes played hard, but they did get frustrated. The Lady Panther doubles team never found the groove.

“We were kind of off, and we broke some strings,” said Knott, the LaGrange College freshman.

The Lady Panthers didn’t find a lot of points at No. 2 doubles either. The LaGrange College twosome of Liz Minick and Meigs fell to the Lady Monarch team of Ashton Walker and Davi Barbour in a 1-8 match on a very steamy court.

“Methodist was moving well and working great,” said Donnett.

At times the Lady Panthers did look overwhelmed and totally out of sorts, which spoke to their extreme youth and inexperience. LaGrange College sophomore Jia Lee and freshman Carli Jones also lost in a big way at No. 3 doubles.

Jones and Lee got bounced 1-8 by the Lady Monarch tandem of Riley Zopp and junior Audrey Greeson. It wasn’t pretty for the Lady Panthers, but it was a thing of tennis beauty for Methodist University.

The Lady Monarchs were off and rolling with a 3-0 lead after doubles play.

“The doubles set the momentum. We were focused, and we were playing it point-by-point. We finished well, and we took some confidence into singles,” said Methodist University head tennis coach John Blackburn.

The Lady Panthers would play Methodist much tougher in the singles matches. LaGrange College made the Lady Monarchs work. And there were some competitive singles matches.

At No. 1 singles, Eppes gave herself a chance at winning in a hard fought 5-7, 1-6 setback to Walker of the Lady Monarchs. Eppes scored some impressive points.

“I was ready to go, and I had vengeance (after the doubles loss). I have learned to rally, and my net game has improved (this season). But I lost a tight first set,” said Eppes.

She was never able to recover after that, and Eppes lost to Walker, the Methodist University sophomore.

“I was using my forehand (shot). I cleared my head, and I hit some cross-court shots,” said Walker.

There was another semi-close match at No. 2 singles. Knott of LaGrange College gave Landis of the Lady Monarchs some fits before losing, 3-6, 0-6.

“She wasn’t weak,” Landis said of Knott. “I just kept her deep. I stepped in and drove the ball. I knew my team needed me.”

LaGrange College showed up again at No. 3 singles. Liz Minick came ever so close to beating Muze of Methodist in a 7-5, 4-6, 5-10 duel.

According to Blackburn, “LaGrange is an improving team.”

But the Lady Panthers did run out of tournament adrenaline in the last three singles matches of the day. Barbour of Methodist won, 6-0, 6-1 over Lee of the Lady Panthers at No. 4 singles. The extreme heat got to Lee, and so did the steady play of Barbour.

Methodist University won the final two doubles matches rather easily. Zopp prevailed, 8-2 over LaGrange College’s Meigs at No. 5 singles. In the last match of the season, LaGrange College sophomore Betsy Markham was slapped with a loss of 0-8 by Lady Monarchs freshman Allison Himes at No. 6 singles.

The Lady Panthers finished their tennis season with a record of 10-9. Meanwhile, Methodist University raised its record to 15-6.

“We have great recruits and wonderful girls. We play at a high level,” said Blackburn, the Lady Monarchs coach.

Chris Fernsler Sports Writer