John Hitchcock started coaching Eaton’s girls in the fall of 2012. He started coaching his daughter much earlier, tossing Macy beach balls to hit with a Kmart racket when she was 3.
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Some days the tennis ball still looks like a beach ball to Hitchcock. She enters state with a 34-0 record and didn’t drop a set in nine sectional and district matches.
Hitchcock beat Oakwood junior and Lily McCloskey in both the sectional and district title matches. McCloskey also qualified for state along with the Jills’ doubles team of juniors Sophie Russell and Natalie Connelly.
“She’s definitely one of my toughest competitors,” Hitchcock said of McCloskey.
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The state tournament starts Friday morning and continues Saturday with the semifinal and championship rounds. Hitchcock enters as a top seed, but drew two-time defending state champion Nicole Gillinov of Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown. Gillinov, a senior, finished fifth at the Northeast District tournament.
Hitchcock is up for the challenge. She has considerable experience in USTA tournaments including finishing second in doubles at the USTA 14-U national championship in August.
“I’m definitely hoping to show what I’m worth,” Hitchcock said.
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The scouting report on Hitchcock includes quickness, speed and accuracy. She has a strong shot but with a slender frame doesn’t often overpower opponents. And then there’s that never-give-up attitude. That was on display in the district semifinal against Cincinnati Indian Hill junior Bella Kirby. Hitchcock won the first set 6-0 and trailed in the second 4-5. She rallied to win the final three games to win 7-5 and advance to the final where she beat McCloskey 6-3, 7-5.
“The thing that’s one of her true assets, and something you can’t teach, is heart and fight,” coach Hitchcock said. “From the grace of God she got it. She got touched with a little bit of athletic ability and decided to make tennis her sport.”
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She’s not the only one, either. Junior Sophia Murphy is a three-time district qualifier. Sophomore Grace Murphy qualified last season in singles and returned this season playing doubles with Sophia. Addie Bell and Brianna Ward became the Eagles’ first doubles team to reach district last season. The program started in the mid-1980s.
“It’s a good window for Eaton tennis. … It’s been fun,” coach Hitchcock said. “We’ve gotten more of the community coming up to watch our matches. We had a good crowd coming to sectional and district. It’s been fun being a part of it and watching it happen.”
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