By Chris Whitaker
The Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS — Mallory Pinnell won't have to go far to play
That's because she will be playing for Brennon Sewell at Georgia Southwestern.
"I'm very excited," said Pinnell, who signed with GSW on Saturday. "I've been looking forward to that day for the longest. "We're all real excited. Now I've got to practice all the time."
Pinnell is the only senior on the Lady Panthers' team this season. Americus-Sumter made the playoffs for just the second time since the merger, and the Lady Panthers won their first region championship and made their first Sweet 16 appearance.
Pinnell was 14-2 on the season, losing her first and last matches of the season.
"My senior year was amazing; tennis was like totally different this year because of how close we were," she said.
Coach Terri Lee said Pinnell's leadership made all the difference with the rest of the team.
"It's been a while since we had a good leader like that," she said. "We knew we had a point for our team when she went on the court most of the time. When she won, it encouraged others to bring a win also.
"She matured with her skills on the court this year and just brought her play to a different level. She helped pushed the other kids on the team, which helped us get better as a whole team."
GSW finished 13-11 this season, its best season in seven years, and the Lady Hurricanes won their first two conference matches since joining the Peach Belt in the 2007 season.
Sewell is excited about adding Pinnell and what she can bring to the table, especially in doubles.
"She brings a really good package," he said. "No. 1, she really loves tennis and is dedicated to the game and improving. Two, for a female she can be aggressive, which is what we are wanting now in tennis players. She's also athletic in the fact that she has foot speed. She has extensive background playing doubles, and I look for her to do really well in doubles for us in the coming years."
Sewell said both the men's and women's teams are now filled completely with a Georgia roster. The Lady Hurricanes are looking to replace their No. 1 and No. 4 singles players. Former Southland Academy standout Mollie McGowan could work her way into the fourth spot, and Pinnell could play for one of the final two spots with incoming freshman from Valdosta High and Oconee High.
"It will probably take her a year to get used to college level tennis," said Sewell. "I expect her to blossom maybe her sophomore year. I like Mallory mainly for her potential."
Pinnell is excited about the opportunity of playing both singles and doubles, as she has played with her dad in doubles tournaments.
"I like playing at the net, but because I've played singles all the time, I'm not used to it, and it will be different," she said. "I have to improve my serve and returning harder balls. The college level girls don't play; they hit hard. They hit as good as the guys at my high school.
"Right now, I'm not expecting to be really good. I'm trying to make myself as good as I possibly can. I'm going to give all I have and just practice a lot."
Americus-Sumter girls assistant Carl Willis said Pinnell is a perfect fit at GSW.
"He expects them to be academically sound and be willing to work hard on the tennis court," he said. "She has shown exceptional playing ability and exceptional leadership qualities, and she was a big part of our success for the region championship."