Cathedral seniors eyeing state title
NATCHEZ — Taylor Beesley and Sarah Beth Willard already have one state championship to their names in tennis.
The duo won the Mississippi High School Activities Associations girls doubles state title as sophomores in 2011. Now seniors, the two of them are aiming at one more championship next Tuesday in Ridgeland.
Only this time, they’ll have to do it without each other’s help.
Beesley will compete for the girls singles state title, while Willard will team up with Mark Iles for the mixed doubles state championship.
“It’s weird,” Beesley said of not having Willard by her side. “It’s different playing singles, but hopefully it will be good. I like singles, but it’s more pressure on you.”
Willard said it’s been strange not having Beesley on the court with her at the same time. The two have been playing tennis since they were in seventh grade, and Willard said they were both excellent partners for each other.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Willard said. “She has a better forehand, and I have a better backhand, and it’s been hard adjusting to another partner.”
But playing with Iles has been a good experience for Willard, she added.
“He’s a really strong player with a good forehand and serve,” Willard said. “Since he’s a guy, he also brings out my more competitive side, because a lot of the guys I play against are stronger than a lot of the girls.”
Both Beesley and Willard said winning state is extra-important this year, since it will be their last chance to do so on the high school level.
“I’ve always wanted to win doing it by myself, but it’s going to be harder because you have to do more,” Beesley said of going for a singles title. “But I want to win, so hopefully I will.”
Willard said there won’t be any more putting off a championship now that she’s a senior.
“The past couple of years, I always told myself that there would be another year (to win state),” Willard said. “Now I have a lot of self pressure trying to push myself hard, because this is the last sport I’ll be able to win state in.”
In addition to Beesley, Willard and Iles, Cathedral will take five other players to the state tournament in tennis. Nick Webb will compete in the boys singles, Silas Whitaker and Xavier Hawkins will go for the boys doubles title and Paige Foster and Wesley Callaway will shoot for the girls doubles championship.
Cathedral tennis coach Kate Ellard said she was happy to help lead such a large group to the state matches, especially following in the footsteps of former Cathedral tennis coach Marla Beard. She also said she was grateful for the numerous Cathedral supporters that helped her players by playing matches with them.
“There are a lot of people around Natchez with a lot of experience that have really helped us out,” Ellard said. “It’s really comforting to know that we have that kind of support from our school affiliates.”
Ellard also said she’s really enjoyed coaching this year’s tennis team.
“They’re all respectful, hard-working kids,” she said. “They take tennis very seriously. They’re fun, easy and laid-back, and it makes it easy to come out here every day and play a match or two.”