Parker Clarke may have exceeded his own expectations.
Reaching the state final four in your first year as a No. 1 singles player will do that.
“There were a couple big matches I had this year where I was just kinda hoping to play well, not necessarily win,” the Ashland senior said. “Obviously I wanted to win, but I just wanted to focus on playing well, and I ended up winning those matches pretty handily.”
Madison Hill continued her roll in that top singles spot. The Greenup County senior finished off her high school career with her third 16th Region Tournament title and a run to the state round of 16.
“I wish I could’ve done even more. Three’s good,” Hill said of her region title haul, “but I wish I could’ve won four or five or something. But I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.”
Clarke and Hill were selected All-Area Player of the Year for boys and girls tennis, respectively.
Clarke was no stranger to singles play, but he’d moved to doubles as a junior to try to better the Tomcats’ chances to make noise at the state tournament.
“Last year, he was such a team player to accept that,” Ashland coach Eddie Sizemore said. “There’s a chance he could’ve made the Final Four in singles last year, to be honest, but we just felt it was better for the team last year. All along, the plan was to try to get him playing on the last day of the season, and that’s what happened. It was a great run for him.”
Clarke indeed did that twice. He teamed with Layne Meek on a state semifinalist doubles team last year. After 2018 state singles runner-up Robby Krick’s graduation, Clarke slid back to singles this spring and didn’t miss a beat.
Clarke advanced to the Final Four again, this time on his own, falling to eventual state champion Matt Halpin of Paul Laurence Dunbar.
“I feel like, within the past year, my serve got a whole lot better with more pace and placement,” said Clarke, a Georgetown College signee. “I feel like my approach shots and finishing volleys have gotten a lot better. ... Putting points away on volleys has become a strength of my game.”
Hill added her second consecutive region crown to the one she won as an eighth-grader in 2015. Hill thus became the third girl this millennium to win three region singles titles or more.
Russell’s Jessica Wise won four championships from 2003-06. Kennedy Womack claimed the crown at Rose Hill Christian in 2009 and ’12 and added a third at Fairview in 2013.
“I don’t know if ‘difficult’ is the word, but it was certainly a little more stressful,” Sizemore said of managing both teams. “I’m anxious to have a few days off, but I absolutely love it.”
Sizemore wrapped up his 19th season as the Tomcats coach and his first leading the girls, “and “I feel like we just started,” he said. “It’s so much fun. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Upon finding out he’d won the newly reinstituted Coach of the Year award, Sizemore was quick to share credit with former Kittens coach Jamey Sellars and Ashland assistants Chris Meinfelter and David Johnson.
Ashland placed six players on the girls All-Area team — region doubles champions Emma Johnson and Abby Meek, singles runner-up Emma Hill, Elizabeth Davis, Hollie Hedrick and Rachel Craft. Hill won a match at the state tournament, as did Johnson and Meek.
Allie Wells, the 15th Region Tournament singles runner-up, represented Johnson Central. Morgan County’s Kennedy Trusty and Emily Hammonds comprised the 16th Region runner-up team in the Lady Cougars’ first year in the 16th Region after moving from the 15th, and they also won a state tournament match. So did Rose Hill Christian sisters and doubles partners Delaynee and Bellamee Sparks.
Lawrence County claimed the 15th Region team championship, led by region doubles titlists Eden Webb and Adrian Webb. Maci Pollack, Sheree Hay and Katelyn Pauley join them as All-Area Lady Bulldogs.
Eastern Kentucky Conference champion East Carter had three All-Area representatives — Maria Hayes, Aliya Lewis and Emma Moudy. Hayes, a freshman, has already set the Lady Raiders’ career record for overall victories (32) and singles wins (23). She won the EKC singles title.
Russell’s Ashley Nguyen and Katlynn Shumway round out the All-Area girls team.
Ashland placed six players on the boys All-Area team — Clarke, Alden Johnson, Ethan Sellars, Reed Daniel, Mac Meek and Justin Lucas.
Daniel and Sellars beat Lucas and Meek in an all-Tomcats region doubles final. Both of those doubles units went on to win a match at State.
Morgan County claims three All-Area performers — Ashton Whitt, Jacob Elam and McKenzie Daniel. Whitt was the region singles runner-up and qualified for the state’s round of 16. Daniel and Elam comprised a doubles team that won a state match.
Lawrence County’s boys joined their girls program in claiming a 15th Region title. Region doubles champs Brock Kessinger and S.J. Lycans represent the Bulldogs, as well as Noah Fairchild and Lincoln Rose.
Russell, Rowan County, East Carter and Johnson Central each placed two players on the team. The Red Devils’ Michael Eastham and Mason Quinn, the Vikings’ Luke Burrows and Jordan Justice, the Raiders’ Noah Sammons and Shawn Greenhill and the Golden Eagles’ Scott Daniel and Hilal Sofoyan made All-Area. So did Greenup County’s Carson Sammons.
The Daily Independent sports department selects the All-Area Players and Coaches of the Year. The All-Area team is composed based on finishes in region tournament play.