Life on court fulfilling for Milligan's Wallingford

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Sara Wallingford is having the time of her life.
   The former Elizabethton High standout is a junior on the Milligan College tennis team, and she is having lots of success.
   And also a good time.
   "I couldn't have asked for a better place to play tennis," Wallingford said. "I've had a lot of challenging matches here. As a freshman, I won the conference in my flight. That was great. I've played against so many great players."
   Wallingford has become a great player with hard work and determination.
   You can constantly find Wallingford on a tennis court.
   Wallingford is a scrappy player. It may look like you've won the point against her, but then you're back in a dogfight as soon as you know it.
   "I'm going to work to get every point," Wallingford said. "I think of myself as a hustler and a hard-worker. I'm going to try to get to the ball."
   Wallingford's shining moment in high school came when she was a District 1-AAA semifinalist in 1999 as a junior.
   Wallingford came into the tournament unseeded, but then shocked Sullivan South's Myra O' Dell to reach the final four.
   Wallingford then put a scare in the tournament's top-seeded player before finally going down.
   But Wallingford became an even better player in college. Wallingford thinks her talent level has increased, but other things like attitude have improved.
   "I think I've tried to improve a lot in many areas of my tennis," Wallingford said. "My game is better all-around. My attitude is better. I'm a completely different player with the exception of working for every ball."
   Wallingford is a competitor, which runs in her family.
   Sara is the daughter of Milligan head basketball coach Tony Wallingford. Tony is an emotional coach that tries to get the most out of his players.
   It's obvious Tony has worked hard to win all the championships that he has won at Milligan. Tony has instilled that same competitive spirit into his daughter.
   "My dad has had an incredible influence on my tennis," Wallingford said. "I get my competitive edge from him. He tells me to compete hard every time out. My dad has influenced me on how I play and how I conduct myself. He has had a huge influence on my life, and how I play tennis."
   Wallingford came from a high school that produced three college players at the same time. Former teammates Brandon Pike and Heather Jones have also played collegiately.
   Pike is a nationally-ranked player at Virginia Intermont, while Jones played a year at East Tennessee State.
   Wallingford is glad to be among those names.
   "I knew we had a lot of talent," she said. "It was just deciding what we wanted to do."
   The program did get better when she was there, and Wallingford is proud of Elizabethton High School's recent tennis success.
   "We've shown that Elizabethton tennis players can play, and can be successful at colleges with good tennis program," she said.
   Wallingford is always around tennis. In addition to being on Milligan's team, she also teaches at the Johnson City Country Club.
   "I've been working there since I graduated from high school," Wallingford said. "It's been a good experience for me. I've been teaching little kids how to play tennis. Hopefully one day they'll learn to love tennis as much as I do."
   Overall, Wallingford couldn't be happier playing for the Lady Buffs.
   "I absolutely love playing here," Wallingford said. "The girls are fantastic. We get along so well. We just have a fantastic time. We love each other as sisters in Christ. We love each other, and we all get along. I like the group of players here."