Local players net scholarships
Published 12:11 am Tuesday, May 7, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
She knew what was coming.
During her first two seasons as a member of the LaGrange High tennis team, Kaylee Key was in the lineup, rotating between singles and doubles.
As Key prepared for her junior season, she was well aware of the looming arrival of a talented group of freshmen who were likely going to snap up many of the spots in the lineup.
Key embraced that challenge and worked to improve her game, and when LaGrange opened the 2018 season, she was once again in the lineup.
Key continued to play this season and enjoyed a remarkable senior year, only losing once, while helping lead LaGrange to the state quarterfinals.
LaGrange Academy’s Alex Wilson also enjoyed plenty of success on the tennis court.
The senior has placed at state every season during his time at LaGrange Academy, and he’s coming off a third-place performance at this year’s GISA state tournament.
Wilson is also a standout in baseball, soccer and basketball, making him a rare four-sport athlete.
Wilson and Key are also high achievers in the class room and in all aspects of their lives, making the two of them worthy recipients of a scholarship given in honor of Joe Cornett, a local tennis enthusiast who died in 2012.
The scholarships were presented during a ceremony on Saturday as part of the Cornett Classic at McCluskey Tennis Center.
Wilson was also presented with the Charlie Joseph’s Top Dog Award as chosen by Joey Keeth.
Key and Wilson both recently wrapped up their exceptional senior seasons.
Key exclusively played doubles this season, and she was a key reason LaGrange advance to the state quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinal loss to Columbus, Key and Ella Eiland teamed up at number two doubles to give LaGrange its only win.
Key’s only loss during the season came to Brookstone, and she was unbeaten in three state matches.
“I’m just so proud to be her coach,” said Kenny Moore, LaGrange’s long-time tennis coach. “As good a tennis player as she is, she is an even better student at LaGrange High School. As good a tennis player, and as good a student she is, she’s ever better as a fine young lady.”
As Moore looked ahead to the arrival of the freshmen in 2018, he was open to replacing Key in the lineup, but that never happened.
“For four years, Kaylee has been a starter on our tennis team, and for four years, her tennis coach has tried to find somebody else,” Moore said. “He never could. Kaylee just kept being a solid player. This past year, everybody wants to be her partner. The bottom line is, they know that if the ball is hit somewhere close to Kaylee, she’s going to make a really good shot.”
In 2016, Key was a freshman who earned a spot in the lineup, and she never gave it up.
“My freshman year, I got to play, and it was an honor,” Key said. “My sophomore year, I played singles and doubles, and that meant a lot. And then coach Moore warned all of us that these freshmen are coming in, so if you want to hold your spot, you better work harder. So that’s what we did. We got with our coaches, and we worked hard. It’s nice to be able to be in the lineup for the past two years.”
Key was grateful to have some of the people who have supported her over the years at Saturday’s scholarship presentation.
“It means a lot,” she said. “I’ve had so many different coaches over the past couple of years, so many people that have helped me a lot. To have most of them here, it’s recognizing them, because they’ve helped me.”
Wilson has been one of the county’s busiest student-athletes for years. He’s played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and tennis and baseball during the spring.
Last week, Wilson and his teammates on the baseball team headed south of Macon to Twiggs Academy for a first-round series in the GISA state tournament.
Over the years, Wilson has learned the importance of using those road trips to get in some valuable study time.
“I’m always studying on the way there, and studying on the way back,” Wilson said. “(Last week), we were playing baseball four hours away, and I had to prep for my AP exam on the way there, and on the way back.”
Wilson enjoyed his most success as an athlete in tennis.
In the state tournament in April, Wilson won two matches before falling to eventual state-champion Jack Wylly in the semifinals.
It was a similar story last season, with Wilson reaching the semifinals before losing to the player who would go on to win the state title.
Alan Smith, who has coached Wilson the past two years, introduced him during Saturday’s ceremony.
“Two years ago I got with this young man and we had a goal,” Smith said. “We wanted to win that state championship. We got third place last year. This year was his year.”
Wilson came up just short of that goal, but Smith said “he still finished top three, and I’m super proud of him.”