State tennis preview: Pace girls try to make it five straight

Nine champions return to defend titles on Saturday at Rome Tennis Center
The Pace Academy girls tennis team will be aiming for its fifth straight state title on May 11, 2024, at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Pace Academy

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Pace Academy

The Pace Academy girls tennis team will be aiming for its fifth straight state title on May 11, 2024, at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

The Pace Academy girls will try to make history on Saturday at the state tennis tournament. The Knights are going for their fifth straight state title, something only five other girls programs have accomplished since the format was changed in 1995.

Pace will play Westminster for the Class 4A championship at the state tournament at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College. The girls play at 9 a.m., with the boys beginning play at 1 p.m.

Walton holds the girls’ record with eight consecutive championships (2005-2011) and Blessed Trinity won seven straight (2009-15). The Marist girls, who are also gunning for their fifth straight championship, have twice won six straight.

Success has come in an unlikely manner for Pace. The Knights have made their run without a superstar; they have yet to have a girl go on to play college tennis. Instead, they’ve leveraged their depth throughout the lineup to win championships.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a number of really solid players who have cared about playing for their team and being willing to play wherever they’re needed in order for the team to have success,” Pace Academy coach Matt Marsico said. “That’s been true all five years. It’s kind of a nice culture and it’s very much appreciated on my side.”

Everyone in the Pace Academy lineup was a member of last year’s team that beat North Hall in the championship match. The only loss was No. 1 singles player Caitlyn Pinsker, who graduated.

The Knights have Claire Jiang at No. 1 and Caileigh Pinsker at No. 2 singles, who both moved up a spot in the lineup. Allison Chitwood, an alternate last year, plays No. 3 singles. The team of Lawson Monroe and Nayana Nag moved up a spot to play No. 1 doubles. The No. 2 team is Nilaya Nag and Sarah Proctor, the only senior and team captain.

“Sarah is kind of the epitome of what’s been so good about the last few years,” Marsico said. “In 2022 she played No. 2 doubles for the championship team and she was part of the team last year, but didn’t get a spot because of some freshmen who came in. But she was always there and supportive and never complained about it, then came back this year and earned a starting spot, was our captain and was a good leader. She’s been great.”

But a fifth championship won’t be easy. Westminster is one of the most gifted teams in the state regardless of classification. The Wildcats have three freshmen playing singles – No. 1 Piper Johnson, No. 2 Mima Petit and No. 3 Shea Petit.

“They are kind of loaded up with some very serious tournament players that will go on to play college tennis,” Marsico said. “But one thing we have is experience and the determination to go out there and try to make it hard on them.”

Pace Academy is one of nine defending champions in the field – four boys teams (Lambert, Johns Creek, Greater Atlanta Christian and Westminster) and five girls teams (Marist, Northview, Pace Academy, Wesleyan and Jeff Davis.

In Class 7A boys, defending champion Lambert will have a rematch against West Forsyth. In 6A, Johns Creek goes for its sixth straight title against Pope, which won its last championship in 2011. In 5A, defending champion Greater Atlanta Christian takes on Chattahoochee, seeking its first title since 2004. In 4A, Westminster chases its fourth straight championship against rival Pace Academy.

In Class 3A, Columbus will meet Lumpkin County, which has never won a title. In 2A, Athens Academy, which won its most recent of 12 state title in 2009, will play Landmark Christian, seeking its first championship. In Class A Division I, Mount Vernon meets Darlington and in Division II, 2021 champion Seminole County plays Aquinas, which won its last championship in 1988.

In the Class 7A girls final, Milton and West Forsyth meet to determine a new champion. In 6A, Marist will pursue its fifth consecutive state championship against Lakeside-Evans, a champion in 2013. In 5A, two-time defending champion Northview will play Cambridge, the 2021 winner.

In 3A, Wesleyan goes for its third straight championship against Oconee County, whose last title came in 2006. In 2A, Jeff Davis will try to defend its title against Branley County. In Class A, Mount Vernon meets Atlanta Internation in Division I and Lake Oconee Academy plays Telfair County, a winner in 2022.