A lot of early rising to polish her game paid off for Lafayette’s Ally Bowen. In a sport like tennis, hard work does pay off. In the case of Bowen, a strong work ethic coupled with natural talent, resulted in an individual MHSAA Class 4A state title. Bowen defeated Newton County’s Kennedy Rodriguez 6-3, 7-5 Wednesday at Parham Bridges in Jackson.
What is even more amazing about the title win is that Bowen is just a freshman. Kennedy is a senior and will play tennis at Meridian Community College next season.
“I knew she was a good player and that we had worked equally hard to get there,” Bowen said about the title matchup. “I know that she probably really wanted to win it this year. She played a great match and there were some points that just went my way. I felt like I did a good job of winning the point, and not letting the Newton County fan base get in my head. They were cheering non-stop. I never got to the point where I needed to do shots to save me. I felt like I could keep playing my game and doing my own thing.”
During the second set, Rodriguez was up 2-1 and Bowen was down 0-40 before coming back to win that game.
“After that, I was like ‘OK, I can do this.’ We were going back and forth with the games, but I knew the very last game, I didn’t want to go to a tiebreaker,” Bowen said. “I was down love 40 again and came back and then those last two points, I was like ‘I’m not losing this game.’ I won it and it didn’t feel real. I was so happy. It felt like a dream.”
Bowen came close to winning a state title last season when she advanced to the finals and lost to an exchange student who was studying at Senatobia. Bowen’s coach, Debbie Swindoll, said since the loss in 2016, the work on the court has increased tremendously.
“She probably had one of the best seasons of any player I’ve had with the exception maybe of Mallory Davis who I played everywhere,” Swindoll said. “This is the first year I’ve ever moved Ally, and it was valuable for our team. That was probably her biggest contribution, she was a real team player.”
“I’ve worked hard with it. I do lessons at 5 a.m. with my coach Kristi Boxx and then practice after school with Coach Debbie,” Bowen said. “I was motivated, pretty determined this year to get first team All-State and then to win district individual championships and then state. I accomplished my goals.”
Bowen is already looking forward to next season, and winning a second state title. There is a chance that she could win the title at the FNC Tennis Center, which has hosted a portion of the state meet the past two years.
“It would be pretty great. Hopefully we will be able to play here so that maybe I can,” Bowen said. “That’s what I’m going to keep working for. I really hope that it will be in Oxford next year.”
Just because the high school tennis season is over doesn’t mean Bowen is putting up her racquet. She has plans to play in Memphis this coming weekend in a tournament. And she will keep working with her coaches in order to stay sharp.
“Tennis is pretty much my life. I do a lot of tournaments. This summer I will be doing a lot of tournaments and conditioning to have good stamina in my matches,” Bowen said.
A state championship should do wonders for the Lafayette program. It’s the first state title in four seasons, and Swindoll’s first individual state title player to coach.
“I’m hoping this will be an inspiration to others that if you work hard, this is what you can accomplish,” Swindoll said. “They see how much she works and how she plays. She was a foreign exchange student away from winning it last year. You never know or who is going to move a player back into singles like Newton County did. We knew it was going to be a tough haul, but she beat a quality opponent.
“I feel like my team can make it to state. It was the best record that Debbie had and that’s amazing considering all the injuries that we had and we had to change up the lineup and stuff,” Bowen added.