Michaela Ellison felt isolated.
Despite having all eyes on her as she competed in the finals of the Region I-3A meet, the Lampasas senior was oblivious to her surroundings. She was completely focused on overcoming her longtime obstacle.
After suffering through consecutive season-ending disappointments at regionals, Ellison finally achieved her goal, winning the girls singles championship at Lubbock’s McLeod Tennis Center located on the campus of Texas Tech.
Although the stands were full of spectators, in the immediate aftermath of her victory, Ellison felt all alone.
“When I walked onto the court, I was just completely mentally prepared to block everyone out,” she said. “Then, as soon as the match was over, I still felt like nobody else was there. It was just me.
“Then I saw (Lampasas head coach Kenneth) Peiser, and I run up to him and hugged him, and we both just started laughing because we were so happy to have finally made it out.”
With the win, Ellison becomes the first Lady Badger to reach the state tournament since Jennifer Olivares made a quarterfinal appearance in 1987, and she did so with relative ease.
Seeded second, Ellison cruised through her opening-day opponents, beating Amanda Glover, of Springtown, and Fabens’ Genny Hays, who was last season’s third-place finisher, by scores of 6-0, 6-2 and 6-2, 6-0, respectively. In the semifinals, Ellison knocked out Burkburnett’s Kasey Coker 6-1, 6-1, setting up a championship match against Jannah McMahen, of Vernon.
Once again, however, Ellison encountered little resistance, clinching her first trip to state with a 6-2, 6-1 win.
“She ousted everybody pretty quick,” Peiser said. “Nobody even came close.”
In fact, Ellison’s dominance might have even lulled the crowd to sleep.
“Usually after all the matches and the finals, everyone is clapping, and it is crazy because there is so much excitement built up and the matches are so close,” she said. “But after my final, it was eerily quiet, and everyone just watched me walk off. There wasn’t much clapping or anything because it was such a short match.”
Ellison will look to continue her winning ways April 28, when she opens play at the state tournament hosted by Texas A&M. The girls quarterfinals will begin at 8 a.m. with semifinals scheduled for 2 p.m. Finals will be played April 29 at 9 a.m.
While Ellison is certainly skilled with the racket, Peiser believes one of her biggest advantages stems from her stamina.
“Being a cross country runner, she can stay out there as long as she has to,” he said. “She can hit 50 balls in a row or she will throw a drop shot in and then a hard shot in. She is consistent, and she doesn’t miss many.”
Ellison will not be traveling to College Station alone.
The Lady Badgers doubles duo of Laura Bynum and Alexi Kaufert, finishing third in the division, qualified for state as alternates. The tandem won their first match against Iowa Park 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 before beating a pair from Levelland 6-2, 6-3.
In the semifinals, Bynum and Kaufert lost to No. 1 seed Wylie 7-6, 7-6. They went on to beat another team from Wylie 6-3, 6-2, earning a playback against Vernon; but after splitting the first two sets, the Lady Badgers lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Nevertheless, the pair was pleased with their play.
“I asked them if they were satisfied with the way they played, and they said, ‘Yes,’” Peiser said. “There were no regrets.”
In other regional matches, the Badgers duo of Marcus Morua-Lance Cofield and the Lady Badgers tandem of Sami
McKenzi-Tara Pergande both lost in the quarterfinals, while teammates Carolyn Laborde and Brian Collier each suffered first-round defeats.
With only one guaranteed match remaining in her high school career, Ellison plans to take full advantage of every moment she has to prepare, especially any one-on-one opportunities she has to play her coach.
“After school, I’ll be staying and hitting with Peiser all this week,” she said. “And my teammates will be playing matches against me as well. I’ll get to see all different styles of play, and coach Peiser definitely hits harder than most girls, so that will help me.”