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Heading To Regionals, Palmer, Jeffress Seek To Extend Season

One has been playing tennis since she was 10-years-old while the other had never picked up a racquet until her sophomore year in high school, but Comets girls’ netters and doubles partners Jessica Palmer and Blair Jeffress are alike in their desire to compete at a high level while on the tennis court.

Palmer, a junior, and Jeffress, a senior will travel to the University of Virginia this week for the Northwest Regional championships after a strong showing at the Western Valley District championships last week.

Palmer and Jeffress, seeded fourth in the district tournament, upset the number one seed GW Eagles doubles team in the semifinals to clinch a spot in the regionals.

Palmer, the number one singles player for her team this past season, is looking forward to her first regional appearance.

“It really feels good to be in the regionals, and I think I’ve been working really hard to reach this point, although I didn’t get to go in singles,” she explained.

A member of the Comets tennis team since her ninth-grad year, Palmer said she’s gained confidence in her game as her high school career has unfolded.

She admitted to being a little hesitant as a freshman, but has worked hard to improve her game since then, with a goal of achieving the same high standards set by former Comet tennis standout Shanna Luck.

“I’m trying to live up to her standards.  I’ve kept pushing myself and pushing myself, and I said, hey, I’ve got to have a better attitude,” noted Palmer.

As a freshman, Palmer was at number six singles, but had moved to number one singles by her sophomore year.

“I didn’t play doubles my freshman year, but have played doubles with Blair past couple of years at number two,” said Palmer, who also admitted she wasn’t really into sports while growing up.

“I started playing tennis when I was about 10 years old, but I wasn’t really a sports person and kind of a girly-girl type,” Palmer explained.

“I started coming out with Shirley Jennings.  She taught me the game and told me to start doing some sports.

“I would just come out and watch her play with other people and it was just something about tennis that I fell in love with.

“When I picked up my first tennis racquet and started playing I felt this was the sport I should be playing.

“I really, really fell in love with it.”

Palmer said her strength is her forehand, while her partner’s strength is her backhand, and the two mesh together well.

“We tend to switch sides sometimes.  Blair is a really, really good partner and I love playing with her.

“It’s as much chemistry as anything else,” said Palmer, whose goal is to make it back to regionals in singles and doubles.

Another goal is beating the district’s top singles player, Betsy Ezell of GW in singles.

She plans on sticking with tennis in college, preferably at the University of Virginia.

“I plan on going to UVa and playing for their tennis team, and hopefully in the future go to the pros,” Palmer said.

Jeffress Late Bloomer In Tennis
A member of the Comets’ Competition Cheerleading squad for four years, Jeffress didn’t pick up a tennis racquet until her sophomore year, but caught on quickly.

“I’ve always watched tennis on television since I was a little girl, so I came out my sophomore year,” said Jeffress, who originally played tennis to keep active outside of cheerleading.

“I wasn’t on the singles ladder my sophomore season, and I played number three doubles,” noted Jeffress, who started her junior year at number two singles and played again at that spot this year.

The partnership with Palmer has paid dividends for both players.

“We’ve found out what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, and we’ve worked to make the other a stronger player,” Jeffress noted.

“My strength is my backhand.  Teaming with Jessica seems natural to me, and I was surprised because I was so used to teaming with Carlene (Link) in doubles.”

“I didn’t know how this was going to work out but it’s worked out very, very well,” Jeffress continued.

“Last year we were number one doubles.  Jessica is stronger than I am in certain areas, but when we come together as a team, it equals out.”

Like Palmer, Jeffress is excited about her first regional appearance.

“I’m very excited about going to UVA and playing in the regionals, because I understand the team hasn’t been to regionals in a couple of years,” she explained.

“This has been a big deal for me because it will influence my younger teammates to work harder, and it can be done.”

Jeffress plans on attending Virginia State, where she faces a decision between tennis and cheerleading.

“There’s a chance I’ll try out for the tennis team, but I am going to try out for cheerleading,” she said.

Former Comets girls’ tennis coach Beth Layne has been working with Palmer and Jeffress in preparation for the regionals.

“I began working with them about a month ago,” said Layne.

“I have really been impressed with how well they play together, and it’s been fun getting back out on the courts and doing drills with the girls,” said Layne.

“Jessica has stronger shots but Blair plays with more consistency.  They really complement each other’s playing styles, and they play well together as a team.”

Layne said she was surprised but pleased with the win by Palmer and Jeffress in the district tournament semifinals over the number one doubles team from GW.

“We were seeded four, and GW’s Betsy Ezell is such a strong player, but Blair and Jessica played more consistently and found holes where the GW players could not get to the balls.

“They were really on their game that day.  A college coach was there and was very complimentary of the team and of Jessica in particular.

“I’m sure the competition at regionals will be tough, but I tell them that anyone can beat anyone else on a given day.”