Natchez High School tennis players Whitney Jackson, Rashaad Smith and Valencia Barnes, left to right, pose together before competing in their matches Tuesday afternoon at Duncan Park in Natchez. As seniors, all three are playing their final seasons in high school. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School tennis players Whitney Jackson, Rashaad Smith and Valencia Barnes, left to right, pose together before competing in their matches Tuesday afternoon at Duncan Park in Natchez. As seniors, all three are playing their final seasons in high school. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High tennis trio beginning final season on team

Published 12:01am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NATCHEZ — For three Natchez High School tennis players, Tuesday afternoon was the beginning of the end, so to speak.

For seniors Whitney Jackson, Valencia Bonds and Rashaad Smith, Tuesday was the first day of the season after rain soaked out their matches last week. It also marked their final season as members of the NHS tennis team.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” said Smith, who competes in singles. “I’ll still see a lot of them, and I’ll be out here a lot.”

Jackson, who plays doubles with Bonds, said her senior year means one last chance to aim for the ultimate prize.

“I just keep myself motivated, because I would love to go to state our last year,” she said.

Bonds, meanwhile, said competing during her senior year is bittersweet, especially since an injury sidelined her all of last season.

“I don’t want to leave,” Bonds said. “I’ve been to state a couple of times, and I really wanted to play last year, so I let that motivate me even more.”

This season has also served as a reunion of sorts for Bonds and Jackson, who haven’t played doubles together since eighth grade. Jackson was sidelined her freshman year because of an injury, just like Bonds was her junior year. Though both were healthy, they didn’t play together their sophomore year.

“We connect with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we have each other’s backs on the court,” Jackson said.

Jackson said her volleys and forehands are her strengths, while serving and backhands are Bonds’ strengths. Even though they hadn’t played together since they were in middle school, Bonds said it wasn’t hard to adjust to each other’s play.

“We grew up playing tennis together, so it was easing (teaming up again),” Bonds said.

Smith, who lost his opening match versus Br0okhaven High School 6-0, 6-0 Tuesday, said last week’s rainouts put him behind schedule.

“It hurts when you can’t practice, because we don’t have any indoor courts,” Smith said.

Bonds and Jackson tied Brookhaven 6-3, 3-6 but lost the tiebreaker match 10-7 Tuesday. They also said last week’s wet weather kept them from being as prepared as they would have liked.

“If we had practiced more, I believe we would have dominated the court,” Jackson said.

With it being his last season, Smith said he has two main goals for the spring.

“I want to win more than I lose, which I did last season, and I want to make it to state,” Smith said.

When tennis is over, Smith said he’s hoping he can help younger players as a tennis instructor like he did last summer. Smith worked with players between the ages of 4 and 13, and he said he stressed the importance of not hitting it hard but hitting it in bounds.

“They try to do what they see on TV, and a lot of people just want to play baseball and hit it hard,” Smith said. “You can’t start out like that.”