published Friday, March 21st, 2014

Baylor, GPS return to Decoturf nationals

The Baylor and GPS tennis teams are in Louisville, Ky., this weekend to participate in the Decoturf National Championships. It's Baylor's fourth consecutive year in the field, while GPS had to take last season off before returning.

The format of the tournament has changed, as the field has decreased from 16 teams to 12. There will be four groups with three teams apiece, and placement within the pools will determine whether a team goes to the Gold, Silver or Bronze bracket.

Baylor is in Group B and will face Barron Collier from Flordia at 1 p.m. and Notre Dame Prep out of Arizona at 4:30. The Lady Red Raiders are 3-0 for the season and return their entire starting lineup from the three-time defending tournament champions and three-time defending Division II-AA state champions.

"Our team is really prepared," Baylor coach Dustin Kane said. "It's the most prepared going into the season that we've ever been, so I'm feeling really good about our team. It's really nice when everybody knows the routine and you can build on the foundation that was laid last year. Everybody knows the system, how we play and what's expected, so we hit the ground running since the first day of school fully prepared."

GPS (2-0), the runner-up in the national event in 2011 and 2012, is in Group D and plays Ransom Everglades (Fla.) at 1 and Duncan (Okla.) at 4:30. The Bruisers' first opponent sports a trio of NCAA Division I commitments, two of whom are going to Ivy League schools.

"It's exciting to play against some teams that we wouldn't normally play," GPS coach Sue Bartlett said. "We won both of our matches pretty easily and haven't been tested yet, but this weekend will be a good test for us."

Hixson has night matches

For the second straight week, the Hixson tennis teams will get an opportunity to play "under the lights."

The Wildcats will host Signal Mountain at 6 this evening at the Racquet Club. Last week, they defeated Rhea County in a similar atmosphere, which according to coach Raul Fernandez gives more people the chance to see the matches as well as increase the intensity in the laid-back yet exciting atmosphere.

"A lot of times, we're having to play matches right after school, so there are a lot of parents that want to come that don't get a chance to because of their jobs," Fernandez said. "We want the kids to feel a little special playing indoors, because it's a neat experience that not many get to do."

The matches are part of a beefed-up schedule Fernandez put together in hopes of getting his teams ready to compete in the postseason, as losing district foes East Hamilton and Arts & Sciences have somewhat softened the competition level in District 6-A/AA. Hixson's boys, who are 3-0 so far this season, also are competing in the prestigious Rotary Invitational on April 4-5.

"It's important to play some tough teams like that so that we're not caught on our heels headed into April and May," Fernandez said. "We don't want a case where we don't get that much of a challenge on the court, then get thrown into a region match and don't know what to do."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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