Tennis Playoff Lineup Unveiled: Benedictine, Habersham School, Savannah Arts, Savannah Country Day, and St. Vincent’s, Ready for Playoff Matches!

By Nathan Dominitz for the Prep Sports Report | April 16, 2024

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The Savannah Country Day tennis programs are a known quantity around the state for sustained excellence.

On the boys’ side, Lamar Kirkley has taught at the school for 49 years and coached teams in different sports, including the boys tennis squad for 20-plus years. The Hornets reached the GHSA Class 3A state finals in 2023 and are looking to make another run as the first round of the playoffs begin Tuesday. 

On the girls’ side, coach Reid Owens is in his first year teaching at Country Day, but he already was familiar with the program. In fact, he was at the 2023 state tournament in Rome as coach of Darlington School’s boys and girls squads.

“I briefly walked over and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be teaching there next year. Good luck,’ ” Owens recalled. “I knew I’d be helping out in some capacity. I didn’t know that I was going to be the head coach at that point in time.”

Owens, who teaches Spanish, and his wife Taylor, a mathematics teacher, fell in love with the school and with Savannah, he said, as a place to raise their 2-year-old daughter. After great success at Darlington – where the girls went 23-0 en route to the GHSA Class A Division I state crown – he jumped at the chance to work at Country Day.

So far so good, as the Hornets mirrored the boys as Region 3-3A champions and are primed to make a state playoff run. Both teams, which fell to Atlanta-area power Wesleyan in the 2023 finals, open the postseason at home Tuesday against Jackson High School.

“I’ve been so proud of them and excited to see them find success this year,” Owens said of his girls squad. “In sports, the ability to maintain is something that I think people just kind of assume, but it takes a lot of work. It’s really a testament to the tennis program here, and with the support of our athletics program and our administration and our families, the program’s able to have success year in and year out.”

Here's a look at some of the boys and girls teams to watch as postseason begins this week for the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA) and Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools (GAPPS).



Savannah Country Day

Owens stepped in for Carrie Vetrovsky, whom he called “a great colleague, great player, great coach, too,” and noted they play together on a mixed doubles team in an adult tennis league.

The Hornets returned a strong contingent from 2023 and are led by No. 1 singles player Helen Culver, a sophomore; freshman Katherine Berg at No. 2 singles and junior Eliza Strong at No. 3.

“A sophomore typically playing juniors and seniors, (Culver) has had her work cut out for her, but she’s had a lot of success,” Owens said. “I’ve been proud to see the mental growth, just keeping cool under pressure.”

The coach said Berg, as a ninth-grader, has gained great experience that can be applied to the playoffs.

“She’s also shown a lot of growth over the course of the season, just being able to stay focused mentally when you get into those tough situations,” he said. “I’m super proud of her progress.”

The Hornets’ top three singles have been consistent in their ranking, and Strong has been a steady player with “pretty ground strokes” who will surprise people with her power.

“She’ll kind of bait you in and just hit a powerful winner,” Owens said. “It’s fun to watch her play.”

He also enjoys the high-energy No. 1 doubles team of senior Lilla Brennan and junior Mary Duvall Sumner.

“Every team we face thinks they’re sisters because of the rapport they carry with each other,” he said.

Brennan’s actual sister, freshman Margaret Brennan, is partners with Mary Margaret Carroll at No. 2 doubles.  

“Across the year, they’ve shown their ability to play together and get the job done for us,” Owens said.

SCD, which has not lost since an early-season match against North Oconee, also has gotten contributions from junior Agnes Brown and freshman Ryan McGee.

Savannah Arts Academy

The Panthers lost only a few players to graduation and brought back the core of the team, including all of their singles players and No. 1 doubles.

“I was pretty lucky,” coach Karin Best said. “I knew that the region we were in was going to be super tough, so my expectations were to do better than we did last year, and we did.”

SAA was more competitive in matches and went 4-3 in Region 3-2A to finish fourth. The team hits the road Wednesday for the GHSA Class 2A playoffs to face the Academy for Classical Education (ACE) in Macon.

Senior Ava Goto is at No. 1 singles and “extremely dedicated and such a hard worker, an amazing team player and a phenomenal team captain,” Best said.

The coach called junior Zoe Chow, the No. 2 singles, her co-captain. “She’s a team player and super organized and helps me keep the team on track,” Best said.

Junior Abrianna Rawls is at No. 3. “She’s a very quiet player. When she gets behind, she comes back with a vengeance,” the coach said. “She’ll play to the end.”

The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Lauren Groover and Isabella Soldan are “feisty and they’re fun and they always have a good time,” Best said.

Sophomores Georgia Liljenquist and Zoe Wagner are at No. 2 doubles. “Georgia is a beast at the net. She’s fantastic,” the coach said. “Zoe will run anything down.”

St. Vincent’s Academy

Bernadette Staudt, in her second season as the Saints’ head coach, knew that the team that advanced to the 2023 quarterfinals was graduating eight seniors, including all of the starters.

“I had pretty modest expectations, but they actually learned quickly,” Staudt said. 

SVA played a tough schedule including larger schools and went 6-8 overall and 3-1 in Region 3-3A regular season, losing only to Savannah Country Day. SVA lost to Savannah Christian and beat Calvary Day to finish third in the region tournament. 

The young Saints visit Pike County in Zebulon on Tuesday in the opening round of the GHSA Class 3A playoffs.

Mary Margaret Brooks is a freshman at No. 1 singles and had what Staudt called a learning year in facing opponents’ best talent after coming up from middle school.

“She’s very consistent,” said Staudt, noting that Brooks developed a stronger game plan for her matches. “She learned a lot. I’m excited to see what she does next year and the following year.”

No. 2 singles Mary Alex Ansley, a junior, uses being left-handed to her advantage. “She’s a fighter. She’s very smart on the court,” Staudt said. “She’s young and learning – a really big improvement from the beginning to the end of the season.”

The coach sees a high ceiling for sophomore Elizabeth Kulp, the No. 3 singles player for now. “She’s very, very strong,” the coach said. “She has great strokes. She has all the makings except consistency. She has a fabulous forehand. She will probably be our No. 1 with a little bit more consistency and game savvy.”

Senior Katherine Brooks, the sister of Mary Margaret Brooks, forms the No. 1 doubles tandem with sophomore Abby Cline. Staudt called the duo very strong (10-3 record), as are the No. 2 doubles of freshman Ava Fonseca and junior Sadie Albert (13-1). 

“Ava is very, very steady. Sadie has taken some of her basketball athleticism. She’s all over the court,” the coach said. “She can lob, volley, she can go down each line. She’s very smart. Ava is also smart, so she’s learned a lot from Sadie. They’re very tricky, very smart.”


The Habersham School

Coach Cameron Hunt said the girls team has a target on its back, and that’s understandable because the Patriots have won two consecutive GAPPS state crowns.

There was only one senior on the 2023 roster, so Habersham (12-2) is looking strong again going into its two-team regional tournament at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Bacon Park against Faith Christian Academy of Waynesboro. The GAPPS state tournament is April 29-30 in Rome.

“We have a pretty deep team,” Hunt said. “We’re pretty solid all the way through. We don’t really have any superstars on the team that are elite players. But we have seven steady girls and we can win at every position.”

Faith Devey missed a couple of weeks due to a back injury but has returned and is 8-1, Lucy Kelly is 10-3 and AJ Cadle is 8-5. The three seniors have each been at No. 1 singles and rotated through the top three slots.

“They’re all about the same,” Hunt said. “That’s kind of the big reason our girls team is successful -- all three of them. Another team may have a really good No. 1. We’re pretty deep with all three of them playing pretty solid singles.”

Myla Shippy, an eighth-grader, also has dealt with a back injury and missed time. Her spot on the No. 1 doubles team with sophomore Lindsey Norman was taken by Georgia Reed, who moved up from No. 2. Reed’s partner, freshman Betsy Kelly (sister of Lucy), formed a new tandem with freshman Paige Edwards.

Hunt doesn’t seem to sweat the regular turnover of student-athletes coming in and out of school, even one as small as Habersham, which he said has about 60 in grades 9-12.

“We have a lot of seniors this year,” he said. “We’ll be back into rebuilding next year, which I like. I don’t mind rebuilding. I teach tennis so I enjoy helping these kids get better.”


Savannah Country Day

When coach Lamar Kirkley saw the team returning from 2023, when the Hornets reached the GHSA Class 3A state finals, he liked his chances.

“Our expectations were really good,” Kirkley said. “I still had my No. 1 (singles) coming back, No. 3 coming back, four good doubles players coming back. I was expecting us to have a strong season.”

Among those graduated was team captain Jake Felser, the No. 2 singles player, but the Hornets indeed are having a strong season.

The Region 3-3A champions ran the table in the region and have lost just twice all season, to strong programs at Columbus (Class 3A) and Gynn Academy (6A). Meanwhile, SCD has defeated the best of the area non-region teams on its schedule, including Savannah Arts Academy, Effingham County, Richmond Hill and Benedictine.

Kirkley said the squad hasn’t faced any adversity this season, unless one counts the daily battles at practice to determine seeding – which is a good thing, he said. The No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams are about equal.

“There’s good competition between the two of them to determine who’s one and who’s two,” Kirkley said. “It’s the same thing with No. 2 and No. 3 singles. They’re about even. So we have really good matches with them every day.”

There’s no question who is the top singles player, as senior Henry Berg has held that position for about three years. 

“He is very solid and makes very few mistakes. He’s a really good athlete,” Kirkley said. “He’s quick. He’s strong. He gets to everything. He plays smart. He has played a lot of tennis and he knows how to win. He can break an opponent down and see what he needs to do to figure him out.”

Berg is 16-3 taking on the opponents’ best, while No. 2 singles Nico Dascombe, another senior, has the same record. Junior Turner Birthisel (17-2) is at No. 3 singles.

The No. 1 doubles team of sophomores Finn Taylor and Wills Davis is 16-3, while No. 2 duo of sophomore Paxton Towe and freshman Reed Dulany is 10-1.

The Hornets boys will follow the SCD girls against visiting Jackson in the GHSA Class 3A state playoff doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Savannah Arts

The Panthers had to play their way through the Region 3-2A tournament into the GHSA Class 2A playoffs after finishing 3-4 in the regular season and in fifth place.   

“We beat somebody who had beaten us earlier in the season,” SAA coach Best said of Vidalia, who fell to the Panthers and yielded the No. 4 spot to them.

The SAA boys, like the girls, will travel to Macon to take on ACE in the opening round of the postseason.

Best calls No. 1 singles player Aiden Lee, a sophomore, “extremely focused and dedicated to tennis. He loves it.”

The No. 2 singles player made a long journey to Savannah and brought with him a lot of tennis experience. Leo Cassagne, a foreign-exchange student from France, is considered a sophomore, the coach said.

“He’s very fiery on the court, and sometimes he can be a hothead, but other than that, he’s a phenomenal player,” Best said.

At No. 3 is junior Brenden Edgecombe, who is very quiet, the coach noted. “He works extremely hard and he’s coachable. You teach him a technique and it sinks in. You don’t have to even say anything again. He has improved immensely since last year.”

Junior Alex Hamza-Lup and sophomore Sam Barrow form the No. 1 doubles team. “Alex is really good at the baseline, and Sam works really hard at the net,” Best said. “They just have a very calming effect on each other.”

Juniors John Braswell and William Dunn compete for SAA at No. 2 doubles. “Will is probably the most consistent tennis player I’ve worked with in years,” the coach said. “He’s very consistent. He’s easy going. He works well with anybody. Johnny works really hard. His effort is fabulous.”


Heather Hawkins, in her first year as head coach, makes a point to give credit to eight-year assistant Joey Ruiz, a community coach not on staff at Benedictine. Ruiz has been a key contributor at his alma mater (Class of 1983) and has the hardware to prove it.

“I usually break out the championship ring (around this time of year),” Ruiz said recently in reference to Benedictine’s 2018 Class 2A state tennis title.

The ring can serve as inspiration to the current Cadets, who open the GHSA Class 4A state playoffs against Westside Macon (5-7 including region tournament, 2-3 region) at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bacon Park.

The Region 3-4A champion Cadets (10-5) followed the title run with a semifinals appearance and three quarterfinals. 

It all starts at No. 1 singles, where Liam Hegarty has been dependably solid for his BC career. Hawkins said the junior takes his role as team captain seriously.

“He’s such a great player,” said Hawkins, noting that Hegarty has lost just two matches after missing about two weeks at the season’s start because of an ankle injury. “He’s the kind of kid you want these younger kids to look up to because he plays his game with integrity. He wants to beat you and beat you outright. He’s not going to cheat you out of points in the process.”

Lachlan McIntosh, a sophomore, is a welcome addition after playing a different spring sport last year. 

“He is an athletic young man and equally smart in the classroom,” said Hawkins, a Spanish teacher who taught McIntosh his freshman year.

Sophomore Walker Sheffield was a doubles player for most of his freshman season, then switched to singles because of a teammate’s injury and stayed there, now at No. 3 singles.

Hawkins, an assistant last season, was asked why senior Walker Zador and freshman Matt Tift work so well at No. 1 doubles.

“You know, we have been trying to figure out that question all season,” she said with a laugh. “Nobody would have expected by any means a freshman to come in and mesh well with a senior, but here we are. We’ve tried a couple of other pairings, and Walker and Matt just have a really good chemistry with each other. They work well together.”

Ruiz said the No. 2 team, junior Marcos Simon and Sidh Patel, have been playing doubles together since they were freshmen.

“They know what each can do,” Ruiz said. “They don’t mesh chemically as much as Matt (Tift) and Walker (Zador) do, but they have what it takes. They’re still relatively new to the game – three years, not a long time to be playing tennis and be good at it. 

“They’ve worked hard and they’re in a good spot right now. I’m really looking forward to next year with them as seniors going into that fourth year.”

The Habersham School

While the Patriots girls squad is going for a third consecutive GAPPS state crown, the boys are doing quite well in trying to improve upon 2023, when they advanced to the semifinals.

Coach Hunt said he was “a little surprised” by the boys, who are 8-5 playing a difficult schedule against much larger schools.

Fortunately, the student body is very active in athletics as the seasons overlap.

“It’s good that we work with each other,” Hunt said of the coaches. “It also helps because the kids are athletes. They play other sports. They’re competitive. They know how to compete in multiple sports.”

Like the girls, the boys will play in the regional tournament on Tuesday at Bacon Park against Faith Christian Academy.

The Patriots’ singles lineup is senior Sam Peterson, who is 9-3 at No. 1, junior Luke Johnson at No. 2 and sophomore Nolan Belfry has played the most at No. 3.

Seniors Ike Barry and Hamilton Colley have been dominant for years at No. 1 doubles, going 12-0 this season.

“They’ve been playing doubles together since 10th grade,” Hunt said. “Hamilton’s a really talented tennis player. He could play singles. They like playing doubles together.”

Seniors Wyatt Denmark and Ben Chambers form the No. 2 doubles tandem for Habersham.

Alec Knox, a junior who has missed time because of an ankle injury, also has figured in the mix at No. 3 singles.

Round 1 team schedules for this week below: follow the bouncing tennis ball. Stay updated!



Tues. 4/16 Bryan County Boys @ East Laurens 4PM

Wed. 4/17 Bryan County Girls host East Laurens 4PM



Wed. 4/17 Savannah Arts Girls @ Ace Charter 1 PM

Wed. 4/17 Savannah Arts Boys @ Ace Charter 1 PM



Tues. 4/16 Savannah Country Day Girls host Upson Lee 1 PM

Tues. 4/16 Savannah Country Day Girls host Upson Lee 2:30 PM

Tues. 4/16 St. Vincent’s @ Pike Co. 1:15 PM

Tues. 4/16 Savannah Christian Boys/Girls host Jackson at Southbridge 2 PM

Tues. 4/16 Calvary Girls @ Mary Persons 3:30 PM

Thur. 4/18 Calvary Boys @ Pike County at Gordan State 3:30 PM



Tues. 4/16 Benedictine host West-side Macon 1:30 PM bacon Park

Tues. 4/16 Islands Boys @ Perry 4 PM

Tues. 4/16 Islands Girls @ Howard 12 PM



Tues. 4/16 Effingham Boys at Rockdale County 2 PM

Tues. 4/16 South Effingham Girls @ Rockdale Co. Time TBA

Wed. 4/17 Effingham Girls at Woodward 1 PM




Wed. 4/17 Richmond Hill Boys hosts Grayson Noon



Tuesday 4/16 Habersham School hosting Boys and Girls Division1 Region Tournament Bacon Park 11 AM

Photo Credits: St. Vincent's team photo is courtesy of Magnolia Manor Creations/St. Vincent's Academy. Benedictine and Savannah Country Day social Media, The Habersham School Athletics Department


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The "Coach" Karl DeMasi has been teaching and coaching for the past 35 years on all levels of academia and athletics. One of his hobbies has been writing, announcing and talking about sports. DeMasi has been involved in the Savannah Area sports scene since 1995, and he created the high school magazine "The Prep Sports Report" in 2000. In 2010, the "Coach" started broadcasting The Karl DeMasi Sports Report. He's still going strong, broadcasting on Facebook live and Twitter live every Saturday morning. You gotta love it!

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