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2017 TELEGRAM ALL-AREA GIRLS' TENNIS: Tarboro's Brenna Bryant the community and state champion

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Tarboro's Brenna Bryant is the 2017 Telegram All-Area Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Cracked and uneven with grass sprouting from the worn out concrete, the Panola Street tennis courts in Tarboro, a quick walk from Brenna Bryant’s childhood house, oftentimes were passed by rather than played on, with Bryant and her parents electing for some of the other newer or smoother courts in town.

Other times, the convenience won out and Bryant, 17, would play on Panola Street despite its flaws.

In 2015, she made a pitch to the parks and recreation department: Why not revitalize the courts?

This past October, right around the same time the Tarboro High senior was competing for, and eventually winning, the NCHSAA 1-A singles tennis championship, construction workers came to her neighborhood and fixed the fence, the cracks and the sprouts, unveiling a brand new playing surface.

After her title-winning match against Emma Bost of Gray Stone Day on Oct. 28, Bryant was congratulated by Tarboro Mayor Joe Pitt and the town’s councilmen during a council meeting, and one of them had a special message for her.

“One of the councilmen, Garland Shepheard, told Brenna, in a teasing way but also halfway serious, ‘We fixed those courts so you would have a place to play right there at your home,’” Brenna’s mom, Teresa recalled. “She won’t have to pass by the court to go to better courts anymore.”

Both in tangible ways like a new tennis court, and in other ways, like the constant stream of good luck wishes throughout the season, Bryant, since starting tennis at age 11, has been able to prove Tarboro as more than a football town all while helping to make a name for the less-revered sport of tennis.

And, after having to sit out her junior season at Tarboro because of transfer rules dating back to her time at Rocky Mount High, Bryant’s perfect 22-0 record this fall has earned her honors as the Telegram’s 2017 All-Area selection for girls’ tennis. She also received the award as a sophomore in 2015.

During that inactive junior year, Bryant still participated in tournaments though the USTA and practiced with the team, but to sit out was ultimately disappointing.

To win and redeem a lost chance from 2016 was of course part of the motivation this season, Bryant said, but to win for the Vikings also meant a lot.

“I didn’t want to just win for myself,” she said. “I wanted to win for the town and the community. Everybody was rooting for me. It made me feel really good, because there really aren’t that many tennis players in Tarboro.”

Before the regional tournament began, when coaches gathered to decide the seedings for each individual player, perhaps some of that small-town bias against Tarboro showed: It was a split decision on whether Bryant or another player from Raleigh, both undefeated, should be the No. 1 seed.

With the votes equal on each side, a deciding coin toss went to the player from Raleigh, and she was awarded the top seed.

“I knew it deep down that I should have been No. 1. A lot of the other coaches did, too,” Bryant said. “But like I said, Tarboro High School, people don’t think that any good tennis players come from Tarboro. I wanted to prove them wrong, and I did.”

Indeed, Bryant beat the No. 1 seed in the regional final, 6-0, 6-3, advancing to the state finals. From there, three match wins stood between her and an individual state title, but first, there was an inopportunely timed head cold the week of the tournament.

The finals began that Friday in Cary. The night before, in her hotel, Teresa was doing everything she should could to nurse her daughter's ailment after an uneasy week of practice.

“I was giving her all kinds of medicine,” Teresa said, laughing. “Her eyes were running. She was coughing. You can’t play tennis, particularly a really hard match, coughing. We did give her a lot of medicine, rest, natural things like a steam shower.”

In the end, Bryant pulled through without much of a challenge, winning two matches on Friday, 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-2, before claiming the championship on Saturday.

“After we got back to the hotel,” Bryant said, “after the match, after the trophy, I fell out.”

After that quick break, Bryant was on the road later that day to Washington D.C., with her father, Kelvin, a former Redskins player, to watch Washington take on the Cowboys.

In a strange coincidence, Bryant, after mentioning her accomplishment from the previous day, was introduced to Serena Williams’ fiancee, who happened to be at the game. She got his contact information, though, as Bryant pointed out with a smile -- not Williams’s number.

“It was quite the weekend,” she said.

Bryant has received interest from a few handful of schools, but is still weighing her options based on her desired fashion major. The plan, she said, is to find a place where she can do both.

Right now, she’s working with Michael’s Angels Girls Club, an organization in Tarboro for girls eight through 18, which recently received a mini grant of $2,000 towards tennis equipment.

“I hope I can teach them everything I can before I graduate so they can continue on and start teaching other people,” Bryant said, “so maybe when I come back on break or something I can see them playing in Tarboro.”

Wherever she ends up next fall, and whenever she does come back for break, as Bryant pointed out with a smile, she’ll always have a court to come home to.

2017 ALL-AREA GIRLS TENNIS’

BRENNA BRYANT, SENIOR, TARBORO

HAVEN ROSS, JUNIOR, ROCKY MOUNT ACADMEY

CAROLINE BRODERICK, SOPHOMORE, ROCKY MOUNT

GRAYSON TANNER, SENIOR, NORTHERN NASH

MACKENZIE WILLIAMS, SENIOR, FAITH CHRISTIAN

KATIE MOSS, SOPHOMORE, ROCKY MOUNT

ANN SUMNER THORP, JUNIOR, ROCKY MOUNT ACADEMY

ANNA THOMPSON, SOPHOMORE, FAITH CHRISTIAN

NURGUL SATEVOKA, SENIOR, SOUTHERN NASH

CAROLINE CAROTHERS, SENIOR, SOUTHERN NASH

CARSON BROWDER, SOPHOMORE, ROCKY MOUNT

EMILY BISSETTE, SENIOR, FAITH CHRISTIAN

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