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Addition of Jeremiah makes Lions tough team

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Perhaps more than any high school team sport, having a star player can be a major game-changer in tennis.

With only three singles players and two doubles teams in the lineup in any given match, a player with USTA tournament experience can have a big impact.

But the top players don't always play for their high school team, opting instead to focus more on their year-round USTA tournament schedules -- like 2009 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year Thomas Cook did this season.

Others don't even attend the high schools in the districts where they reside, electing to be either home schooled or attend tennis academies for their schooling both on and off the court, like Alex Clay did for the last two years before returning to Grayson's girls team for the first time since her freshman season.

So when a player like Mary Jeremiah comes out for her high school team, it can be a big deal.

Before this school year, Jeremiah fit into the latter category of players who didn't play high school tennis.

But when circumstances led the junior into public school for the first time in nine years at Peachtree Ridge, prodding from longtime friends convinced her to give it a try for the first time this spring.

"(Peachtree Ridge boys player) Eric (Caltabiano) lives in my neighborhood, and we've always been best friends," Jeremiah said. "And (Lions girls player) Jessica (Northcutt) -- I've been training with her the last two years. So, when I decided to (go to public school), they both kind of encouraged me. They said, 'You should really come out (for the team).'"

Having a player as talented as Jeremiah can have as big an impact on any high school team.

Ranked No. 3 in Georgia in the Girls 18-and-under division by the USTA, Jeremiah has added major depth to the Lions in singles play, pushing Northcutt -- a first-team All-County selection by the Daily Post last year and ranked No. 9 in Georgia in the Girls 16s -- to No. 2 singles.

But just as important as her impact on the court can be, as far as Lions coach Chrissie Bolt is concerned, is how much Jeremiah's big-time tournament experience can help with the team's poise.

Throw in the return of fellow junior Taylor Cohen and the addition of highly ranked freshman Abigail Owens and it has Jeremiah and Peachtree Ridge thinking big this spring -- definitely challenging for the top spot in Region 7-AAAAA and perhaps even setting their sights on six-time defending state champion Walton.

And that leads to another advantage a player of Jeremiah's caliber can give a team.

"Skill-wise, it's exciting to get someone who has her skill and motivation to be a leader," Bolt said of Jeremiah. "And we've already ... (gone) through (other teams in) the region, and if we're fortunate to go to state. She's where I get my scouting reports from. (Tournament players) are where I can get information on who they've played in tournaments and who they know.

"And in talking to the parents (of the team's tournament players), they tell me it's cute because (the kids) are talking smack about high school (tennis) now. And I'm starting to get excited like they are."

So is Jeremiah. While she has played in a team format before for teams made up of players from Georgia and from the Southeast, she admits it's a different feeling from playing for her high school.

"Most of the people on the team I've been friends with a long time even before I came out (for the Peachtree Ridge team)," Jeremiah said. "It's going to be a new thing for all of us this year, but they know how big of an aspect tennis has been in my life."

That friendship can help prevent some of the problems that bringing in a high-profile tournament player like Jeremiah can also bring, such as any hard feelings among those players bumped down or out of the lineup by such a player.

"I played (Northcutt) in a tournament a couple of months ago, and we talked about it," Jeremiah said. "She said, 'Oh, you're so much better than me, so you'll probably play No. 1 (singles).' ... But she's really laid back. I don't think she cares if she plays No. 2. I wouldn't have cared if I played No. 2. We're both really excited."

Another potentially big problem for a tournament player in high school tennis can be juggling the team's practice time with his or her own individual practice time.

However, Jeremiah says that situation has been addressed in her particular case.

"A lot of times, I go to the high school practice, and then straight to my own practice," Jeremiah said. "It's been enjoyable so far."