Suzy Bowman (copy)

New Albany, coached by Suzy Bowman since 2015, has won four of the last five Class 4A state championships in tennis.

Oxford’s tennis team was en route to Pensacola, Florida, for a tournament on March 12 when coach Louis Nash got a call.

He was told by a school official to bring the team back home because of the COVID-19 outbreak, which had already forced Oxford to extend its spring break. Four days later, the Mississippi High School Activities Association suspended all competition and practices.

“From that day on, it has been awfully strange in many respects,” Nash said.

This is new territory for everyone, including the veteran Nash, who is in his 17th year at Oxford. On Monday, all local tennis courts were locked up as part of the city’s effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

With Gov. Tate Reeves closing all public schools through at least April 17, it’s unlikely that spring sports will resume. But the MHSAA announced last Friday that it’s keeping the door open in hopes that most seasons can somehow be completed.

“I kind of like what the MHSAA has done as far as not just totally saying we’re done,” Nash said. “It at least gives everybody a little hope. I have no problem with dangling it out there.”

New Albany’s tennis team is clinging to that bit of hope. The Bulldogs have won four of the last five Class 4A state championships and returned the majority of their squad.

New Albany has been led by seniors Luke Bolen and Lexie Kent, along with the reigning state champion girls doubles team of Jill Gafford and Maggie Scott.

Like Oxford, New Albany’s tennis courts are off-limits.

“That’s been tough,” coach Suzy Bowman said. “They can’t even get out there right now. I’m just hoping that they’re keeping their fitness level up in the hopes that something miraculous happens and that we can come back and play and head right into the playoffs.”

On the cusp

New Albany was on the verge of clinching its division when play was halted, and the rest of its schedule featured some tough opponents so as to get playoff-ready.

Bowman and several other coaches have been communicating via group message in an effort to formulate a plan for a condensed season should play resume.

“We have been coming up with a plan to see if we could make it work for tennis,” she said. “And we really do feel like we could in a very short amount of time. … I understand, too, if the MHSAA pulls the plug, they’re going to pull the plug on all of us.”

Twitter: @bradlocke

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