Byrne makes her case in Little Caesars final

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Science Hill standouts Sheena Bharti and Tara Byrne are without a doubt the top two high school girls players in Northeast Tennessee, but Byrne showed Sunday that the numerical position of which they play in at Science Hill may change next year.
   Byrne continued her hot play with a 6-2, 7-6 (6-3 in tiebreaker) victory over Venezuela's Erica Belletini in the finals of the Girls 18's at the Little Caesars/ETSU Junior Tennis Championships.
   Belletini defeated Bharti in Saturday's semifinals, so Byrne's win sort of sparks a debate about who is the top player at Science Hill and in the area.
   Byrne has not had much success against Bharti, who plays No.1 at Science Hill while Byrne plays No. 2. But Byrne shined Sunday against an opponent that handled Bharti pretty easily.
   With Bharti being a rising senior and Byrne just a rising sophomore, Byrne figures to take over the top spot when Bharti graduates.
   Byrne is hoping that happens one year sooner.
   "I want to be No. 1," Byrne said. "I've just got to work hard. Sheena and I always have battles. And I'm sure it will be a battle this year, too."
   Byrne has had an incredible summer, as she has now taken titles at the area's two biggest junior tournaments. Byrne also won the Girls 16's at the Chick-Fil-A Ridges Junior Open three weeks ago.
   Byrne is hoping her summer success will carry over into next spring's tennis season, as she looks for her first win against Bharti.
   "Every match is almost a three-setter, but she's always beaten me," Byrne said.
   As for her win on Sunday, Byrne made sure Belletini couldn't get a rhythm going against her.
   "I was just wanting to keep the balls in play, and move her around," Byrne said. "I just wanted to work the point, and find a chance to come into the net whenever I could."
   Byrne cherished another Little Caesars crown, but knew it wasn't easy against Belletini, who almost sent the match to a third set.
   "She had some great shots off me," Byrne said.
   The Boys 16's final featured a pair of Dobyns-Bennett Indians, as Matt Stanley and Preston Sneed took their best shots at each other on Sunday.
   Stanley battled through blisters on his hand to defeat Sneed 7-5, 6-3.
   "I couldn't grip the racket," Stanley said.
   Sneed led 4-3 in the first set, but couldn't hang on against Stanley.
   The first set seemed to take the wind out of Sneed, as Stanley had an easier time of it in the second set.
   Stanley was disappointed with how he played in the semifinals against Andy Rechtein, but he felt a little better about Sunday's performance.
   "I played better than yesterday," Stanley said. "I still have some things that I need to work on. But Preston played well."
   Stanley is happy with the tournament title, but is overall not very pleased with this tournament.
   Stanley, a rising sophomore at Dobyns-Bennett, says he sees room for improvement.
   "I had trouble on short balls, and I was double faulting," Stanley said. "It got better as the tournament went on, but there's still a lot to work on."
   Stanley played No. 1 at D-B as a freshman, but admits that he will probably get pushed out of that slot by the phenomenal Ben Rogers, who has the potential to be one of Northeast Tennessee's all-time greats.
   "Even on a good day he would beat me bad," Stanley said.
   Stanley is not upset about the drop down, as he has team goals in mind first.
   "I'll still have to work hard to play No. 2," Stanley said. "I'm very happy to have Ben on the team. Now we have a good chance to go to the state."
   LITTLE CAESARS NOTES
   * Abingdon's Kyle Allen won the Boys 18's singles title. Due to lack of entries, the tournament was a round-robin event.
   * Elizabethton's Jessica Brumit continues to turn heads. Brumit, who is only eight-years-old, won the Girls 10's singles title in a round-robin format.