Yellowjackets look for newcomers to step up


Union tennis coach Bryan Norman has seen plenty of players depart in the last two season.

“We are going to be very young and inexperienced,” Norman said. “I look for us to be competitive. It might be easier to win a 6A state championship in football than it is to win a 1A-2A state championship in tennis. There are so many really good tennis teams. I’ve only got one starter left from two years ago. The last two years have been tough on us.”

Norman said the Yellowjackets will be competitive on the boys’ side. At No. 1 boys’ doubles, Byers Cliburn returns and is joined by transfer Sage Gunn, who won a state championship at No. 2 boys doubles at Newton County Academy last year.

“Sage was a huge pickup for us,” Norman said. “The way he hits the ball, it’s tough to handle. It’s fast and it has great movement. That’s a great pickup for us.”

Another pickup for Norman is freshman Francelle Praija who is expected to play singles.

“His family moved here from the Philippines a couple of years ago,” Norman said. “He asked me a few weeks ago if he could come play tennis. We were short of boys so I told him to come on out. He said he played badminton and hand ball before and that he was one of the best badminton players in his school. The first time he served, he aced me. By the end of the year, he will be really good and that’s just amazing. Last year, we had the girl from Brazil who played handball who played in the state tournament. He’s just a ninth grader. He’s really raw but has a lot of ability.”

At the other doubles spot, Cross Franklin and Jagger Bennett will play the No. 2 doubles spot while Michael Hurley and Meagan Graham will play mixed doubles.

On the girls’ side, the Lady Yellowjackets are “very inexperienced.” Senior Shania Moore will play singles while freshmen Hailey McKinnon and Logan McGraw will play No. 1 girls doubles. At No. 2 girls’ doubles, Mallory Magee and Brittley Milling will get the call.

“We are just really young, there will be a lot of learning this year,” Norman said. “Neither of my No. 2 girls have every played a tennis match. But I have a lot of junior high kids, so it will get better after this year.”

Union competes in division play with Philadelphia, Puckett, Pisgah and Madison St. Joseph.

“We have to start out with Madison St. Joe and that’s like opening up with Alabama in football,” Norman said. “Pisgah is getting better and more people are moving out that way. Puckett will be very good as well. I don’t know about Philadelphia but the coach does a good job there.”