MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Although Friday may not have gone the way Signal Mountain wanted it, there's no question that its tennis programs have carved out a spot among the Chattanooga area's elite, despite being in a county largely dominated by private-school teams.
A year after finishing with a team state champion (girls), an individual singles champion (Gabe Williams) and a state-champion doubles duo (Grace Williams and Sarah Kate Bailey), the Eagles programs were back at the Adams Tennis Complex and almost as successful. Signal Mountain finished second in both Division I Small Class team tournaments, and Friday the Eagles' Zach Ottley and Gabe Williams lost in the boys' doubles final prior to Emilee Werner and Grace Williams falling in three sets in the girls' doubles final.
Also, Arts & Sciences' Sunshine Finnell fell in the Small Class girls' singles final to Murfreesboro Middle College's Brittney Combest, who repeated as state champion.
Signal is like most Hamilton County high school tennis programs in that it doesn't have an on-campus facility. The Eagles and Lady Eagles practice and play home matches at the town hall. That still hasn't stopped the recent run of success as the boys advanced to state for the third consecutive season and the girls for the second, falling short of back-to-back state titles with a 4-1 loss to Summertown on Wednesday.
Signal coach John Mitchell prepped at Central, where he spent four seasons on the varsity and was a district champion as a senior. At one point during his career, it took his father Jack stepping in or the Central tennis program was in danger of being disbanded, so he understands the battle of attempting to attract players to the school on the mountain.
The Signal programs had a combined three seniors this year, so it's a distinct possibility the run they're on won't soon end.
"It feels good that people think about Signal Mountain when they think about Chattanooga tennis," Gabe Williams said. "I didn't know much about the team before I got there, but I think the teams are really starting to get to a place where we've got a name for ourselves.
"I hope we can continue to come back here and get some more good players for years to come."