STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
WACO — The Faith Academy of Marble Falls girls tennis squad is once again the state champion.
The Lady Flames captured the program’s seventh state title in 14 years on April 18, earning 20.5 points at the tournament. The school is hosing a celebration at 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 20, at the student center on campus, 3151 RR 1431 East.
Head tennis coach Michelle Stallard, who has also guided Faith to two boys state championships and 11 individual state titles in 14 seasons, couldn’t stop complimenting her players.
“I’m real proud of them,” she said. “They represent the school so well. I’m amazed at how great they are. Everyone I talk to compliments (the) great sportsmanship they have on the court.”
The doubles team of Allison Stallard, the coach’s youngest daughter, and Christian Wilcox, both sophomores, led the way to the top of the podium.
Stallard and Wilcox won all four matches at the state tournament, giving the team 10 of its 20.5 points for the victory.
The other four Lady Flames — senior Kiley Magerkurth and sophomores Karson Cain, Nikki Salinas, and Bailey Freeman — each earned the remaining 10.5 points by winning their first-round matches.
Faith was the only program to win every first-round match.
Stallard noted many things led to the Lady Flames’ championship:
• They’ve been playing the sport since they were 8 years old with most playing at Horseshoe Bay Resort, where the coach is the head pro.
• They finished second at the state tournament last year, a heartache that stayed with them for a year.
• They have the old “been there, done that” attitude, keeping the nerves and butterflies away and allowing the players to excel when it matters most.
“It’s been years in the making,” Stallard said. “We had almost the exact same team from last year. That experience and growing, just getting a little stronger. The state tournament is so pressure-filled.”
Though the Lady Flames won a team title, Stallard noted tennis is more of an individual sport. That means the singles players had to come up with their own strategies during each point, and the doubles teams relied on their partners to correct themselves. Stallard could coach them, give them tips and adjustments when they changed ends, but she couldn’t call a timeout like in basketball, volleyball, or softball if momentum had changed.
“If you get behind, it’s tough,” she said.
However, it’s not impossible to come back, a situation in which Wilcox and Allison Stallard found themselves.
The two were trailing 0-3 in the first set of the championship match. The coach calmed the pair, encouraged them, told them how to attack the opponent, and watched as the duo won six of the next seven games to take the opening set before cruising to the win.
“That really helped them to turn it around,” coach Stallard said.
One characteristic of this squad is the Lady Flames’ sense of team, Stallard said, noting that, as badly as each player wanted to win for herself, she also wanted to perform well for her teammates. That impressed their coach.
“That was the pressure they felt — to win state for their teammates,” she said.
While Faith won the district championship before advancing to state, Stallard said some of the players didn’t have the type of finish for which she was hoping. Though Allison and Wilcox won the doubles district crown to receive a favorable seed at the state tournament, the others didn’t win gold in singles or doubles. That meant facing tougher first-round opponents at the state tournament than Stallard wanted.
“We had a couple of three-set losses that were tough,” she said about the district tournament results, “so we weren’t able to maximize our seedings at state.”
As they practiced for the state tournament, coaches emphasized the importance of having a great start, which is vital when trying to win a team title. That’s another reason Stallard was so impressed with her team: She understood the challenge of the first day of play.
“We won six matches,” she said of that first day. “It took all six to win state. That helps you out. When you have a full team, it really gets you ahead of the game. They played well. Everybody’s effort was unbelievable.”