When asked to describe her tennis district champion doubles tandem of Kaylee Manasco and Reese McKinnon, Smackover coach Sonia Barker used the words - gritty, hungry and ecstatic.
“They are gritty seniors who had gone to state two years ago on a third place district win, who were very hungry for (the district finals) win and ecstatic to be going to state on their last opportunity.”
The duo will need to keep that grit and hunger next week when they compete in the 3A State Tennis Tournament at Burns Park.
This is the second year that Manasco and McKinnon have been partners. McKinnon actually qualified for state three years ago with a different teammate.
Manasco and McKinnon didn’t qualify for state last year, which added fuel to their fire this season.
“Last year I believe that Kaylee and I were both extremely tired and it felt like the day had just drug on and on,” McKinnon said. “Our main goal this year was to qualify for State. I don't think either of us thought about what would happen once we qualified. We just wanted to make it there so badly.
“Going into State, I believe we both need to focus on the sport and do the best we possibly can. We could do great. We need to stay focused. Honestly, when Coach Barker put us together last year, we just clicked. We knew exactly how to work together and trust the other.”
While McKinnon also plays softball, Manasco said tennis is her primary sport. This tournament is a big deal.
“We have worked very hard to get where we are and have overcome many challenges. We are determined to always give our best and that shows on the court,” said Manasco.
“Our goal in state is to win of course but we can only do that one game at a time. The keys to accomplishing our goals is to keep our cool and not get angry but play aggressively. We always have to play our best and not get in our heads.”
Manasco said communication has been a key to their success.
“What makes us such a good team is we know how to talk to each other and calm one another down and also tell each other what to do better,” she said. “We talk together on the courts while we play and encourage each other.”
Manasco explained why she’s never considered playing singles.
“I feel like one of my best qualities is playing the net and you can play the net more in doubles,” she said. “As a doubles team you have someone there to talk to you and help you get into your head.”
“I have considered playing singles,” answered McKinnon. “I just wanted to see how it felt to play singles and be out on the court by yourself. I have never played a sport by myself. I play softball and that is a team sport. You win and lose as a team so that is what I have always known.”
The team chemistry between the two was sort of natural, though. Long-time friends off the court, they get along and know how and when to push each other’s buttons - in a positive way, of course.
“My partner on the court is very, very fun. She knows exactly how to enjoy herself out there while being serious and focusing on winning as well,” McKinnon said. “Off the court, she is the same way. She is a fun person to be around, and she knows exactly what to say in every situation and she is quick to help if it is ever needed. We have been friends since middle school, so when we started playing together, we just started having fun. We were both incredibly relaxed and trusting of each other and overall, that turned out to be an excellent thing for us.”
Manasco had to put some thought into her description of McKinnon.
“My partner’s personality is hard to describe. She can get aggressive on the courts which sometimes makes her play better,” she began. “She also will speak her mind and let you know what she thinks. She’s not one to take anything from anyone. She is a strong tennis player. Off the courts, she is encouraging to me and what we can do together as a doubles team. We click as a team because we know each other very well. I can tell when she is having a bad day and she can tell when I am. We also know what to say to each other to help improve how we play.”
So, Barker’s three-word description was accurate. Hungry for success. Gritty enough to fight for that success. Ecstatic to have each other for a teammate.