Staff Photo: John Bohn Abby Owens of Peachtree Ridge is the Gwinnett Daily Post's Player of the Year for Girls Tennis.
The job of a No. 1 singles players in team tennis carries a lot of responsibilities.
Nobody understands that better than Abby Owens, especially after stepping into the role for the first time for Peachtree Ridge's team this spring.
But whatever was needed from her, whether it was setting the tone with a quick early victory or coming up clutch against some of the top competition in the state, the senior managed to provide to the Lions.
"Knowing we had to lean on her a little (at times), she really took a leadership role this year," Peachtree Ridge coach Chrissie Bolt said of the Daily Post Girls Player of the Year. "She knew she had to be strong for us to have a good season, and when you go up against the best (consistently), you know how to do that."
Owens has demonstrated her knowledge of how to stay strong this season by going 21-1 overall this spring, including another undefeated mark in Region 7-AAAAAA and against all Gwinnett County opponents. It capped a career in which she went 71-4 playing at spots in the lineup.
As dominant as this season's record sounds, not all those wins came very easily considering the competition she played against this season.
Playing in Region 7-AAAAAA, she takes on some of the top high school players in the state day in and day out, such as All-County selections Hannah Sardinia of North Gwinnett, Madison Hahn on Mill Creek and Stacy Lackey of Norcross.
But it was in the state playoffs that Owens' mettle was tested the most, particularly the deeper the Lions progressed, with perhaps her biggest win of the season coming during the Class AAAAAA state semifinal match against Lambert.
She dropped the first set against Longhorns' No. 1 player Karlee Bryde, and trailed 5-2 in the second set.
Knowing that the two teams were in the process of splitting the other four matches and that the outcome of the team match would come down to her own, Owens relied on her experience in USTA tournament play to pull her through.
And she dug down deep to rally to force a second-set tie-breaker and win it before taking the third set in a similar tie-breaker to send the Lions into the state championship match for the second straight year.
"Definitely playing tournaments helped take the pressure off," Owens said. "I just tried to stay positive. When I was down 6-3, 5-2, ... I felt like the pressure was all on (Bryde) because she was already ahead. That's how I saw it."
The situation was much different during Peachtree Ridge's state title match against Walton.
This time, with the No. 3 singles match just begun, the Lions trailing 2-1 in the overall match and needing a win by Owens to continue the match, she felt things slipping away after taking the first set from the Raiders' Suzanne Zenoni 6-2, but dropping the second 6-3.
"I actually got more nervous playing in front," Owens said. "But what really got me through was (remembering) playing last summer when I was still being recruited by colleges and playing in front of coaches."
Once again, Owens came up big when the Lions needed her the most by regaining control, and using an early break in the third set before winning 6-4 to even the team match at 2-apiece.
Although the Lions ultimately came up short for the second straight season, Owens, who will play college tennis at LSU and join her former high school teammate Mary Jeremiah, said the experience of this season with her teammates was one she wouldn't trade for anything.
"I think our team was closer this year than we've been in the past," Owens said. "That kind of helps when we're all working for each other. And even though we came up short both years, I don't think many people expected us to be in the finals (like last year)."