Cyclone tennis draws boost in performance

Just like Gloria Estefan, the Elizabethton High School tennis team has "Turned the Beat Around" this season.
   The Cyclone boys and girls squads are heading into the District 1-AA Tournament in fine shape. The girls team looks determined to win the Watauga Conference, while the boys program still has an outside chance at taking the league title.
   The Elizabethton program has made its turnaround under first-year head coach Danny O'Quinn, a star tennis player for the Cyclones in the late 1980's.
   "I've just been blessed to come in with the talent I've had this year," O'Quinn said. "I try to get out there, and teach them what little bit I know. I like to be involved with it, and at practice especially. I think we have a real good coach and player relationship with both the boys and girls. We have excellent kids on both of the teams."
   Even though the Cyclones have shown drastic improvement since last year, moving into the Watauga Conference has been a big help to the program.
   The Cyclones just don't have the numbers to compete with teams like Science Hill, but now EHS is playing where it belongs. And just like it has in the other sports, being in Class AA has paid major dividends for the Cyclones.
   "We're playing where we should be," O'Quinn said. "I don't think it's fair to expect Elizabethton with 850 students to go out and play Science Hill, who has over 2,000. It's definitely helped a lot, and it's going to help our program when the students here in town and the young students coming up start hearing 'hey we won the conference' or whatever we were able to do this year. I think it's going to generate a lot more interest in tennis.
   EHS girls tennis player Liz Dove also believes the drop down has been a big boost for the program.
   "I think it's definitely made the sport more popular here," Dove said. "Maybe it will just keep growing and keep getting better."
   Elizabethton has had very good tennis players in recent years, as Brandon Pike, Sara Wallingford and Heather Jones are all playing collegiately. But the thing that separates this team apart from previous Cyclones squads has to be depth.
   Numbers one through six have all contributed on this team, something O'Quinn believes has been a rarity in years past.
   "Even when I was down here we had the No. 1 and No.2 players that were real good, and then there was such a drop off in skill from two through six," O'Quinn said. "This year I think we're pretty solid one through six, and we even go a little deeper than that. Seven and eight on the girls side are good tennis players, and the same way with the guys. Definitely I think we're solid one through six, and I think that makes a big difference. And like (against Volunteer Monday) when it came down to win those five and six matches and then the two doubles, we were able to win because of our strength in those positions.
   The girls team does look headed toward a championship, and it has been done with a freshman carrying the torch.
   Amanda Pike has been a strong No. 1 in her first year of high school. She has won the respect of top players like Unicoi County's Amber Campbell, and looks to be a force in the Watauga Conference for three more years.
   "What more could I ask for in a building block for the tennis team with her coming in as a freshman ," O'Quinn said. "I've got three more years to look forward to her playing. She will just improve so much between her freshman and sophomore year, and by the time she's a senior I won't even know what to expect from her it's going to be so exciting.
   Dove, Stephanie Schumaier, Hayley Shields, Allison Parlier and Kaci Campbell have also been a big part of Elizabethton's success.
   Schumaier, Shields and Campbell are seniors, and are all having fine years.
   Senior leadership has also been abundant on the boys team. Weston Peters, Josh Davis and Chris Taylor are all having great seasons for O'Quinn.
   Elizabethton's No. 1 boys player is junior David Reece, and he has developed into one of the Watauga Conference's top players.
   Brad Holtsclaw and Devin Johnson are also juniors that should get better and better.
   Other boys and girls who have been very valuable to the team are Jamis Gouge, Abby Bremer and Jeanne Parker.
   Tennis in Elizabethton looks to be in very bright, as the school system's feeder programs are getting involved.
   "Mrs. Joyce Sweeney, who teaches here at Westside, has been very active with the younger kids during the summer with tennis camps and stuff. I plan to get in touch with her and maybe try to get some kind of tennis camp going this summer. Try to open it up for a couple of weeks, and have the younger kids at Westside, Eastside, T.A. Dugger and Harold McCormick get a little bit more involved and let them know a little bit more about our tennis program and where we're going with it."
   It's definitely been a memorable season for the Cyclone netters, and O'Quinn is committed to keeping it going.
   Since 1996, there have been five tennis coaches at Elizabethton High School. There hasn't been a whole lot of stability in the coaching ranks, but it looks like O'Quinn is here to stay.
   "I will be here as long as they allow me to be here," O'Quinn said. "Tennis is probably my favorite sport, and I really enjoy it. We have a great program now, and I hope I can build on it. Unless they run me off I plan to be here for awhile.
   With the program having good players, great kids, and lots of success, I don't blame him for wanting to stay.