Benefield: Montgomery's Georgia Beard leads tennis youth movement

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It was all about the underclassmen this year in North Bay League-Oak Division tennis — a wave of youth led by Montgomery freshman Georgia Beard.

It was Beard who dispatched Cardinal Newman sophomore Georgina Sierocinski 6-2, 6-0 Friday afternoon at Santa Rosa Junior College to take the league singles title and advance to the North Coast Section tournament Nov. 12.

Friday’s win over a talented Sierocinski only seemed right after the newcomer ripped through her inaugural league season without losing a match.

“My dad wanted me not to lose any games, but I’m like, it’s probably not going to happen,” she said.

It didn’t, but her record in league heading into the two-day tournament on Thursday and Friday was still impressive: Beard won 108 games and dropped just 21.

And she did that among a talented crop of underclassmen that should dominate league play in coming years: League champ and Maria Carrillo’s No. 1 Sophia Nguyen is a sophomore, as is Sierocinski.

And speaking of Carrillo, the top of their ladder is frighteningly young and frighteningly good: Sophomore Teresa Liang, who lost to Beard Thursday in the quarterfinals 6-0, 6-2, is just a sophomore, and Vaska Wysocki, who along with Newman’s Sierocinski provided the most entertaining match of Thursday’s quarterfinal, is only a freshman.

But it’s freshman Beard who is having her way so far this season.

“She just does everything a little bit better than we have seen,” Cardinal Newman coach Tony Greco said. “She doesn’t give you much. She has won pretty convincingly against my players.”

Beard dispatched Newman senior Ana Negri 6-0, 6-0 early in the season and topped Sierocinski 6-1, 6-2 on Oct. 23.

Still, on Friday Montgomery coach Joshua Silverman said the 6-2, 6-0 score didn’t necessarily reflect the level of competition. Especially in the first set, a lot of games went to deuce before Beard prevailed.

“It was a battle,” he said.

Beard handled the best player on the best team in the league, Carrillo’s Nguyen, 6-4, 6-0 on Sept. 20 and 6-2, 6-4 on Oct 9.

“She knocks the living cover off the ball,” Carrillo coach Bob Klyce said. “She just has tremendous groundstrokes.”

On Thursday, with Liang making some headway in the second set, Klyce couldn’t help but congratulate Beard when she ripped a backhand cross court and by Liang.

“That’s a nice shot,” he said.

And then another.

But just moments before those two winners, Beard looked as if she might be slipping. Liang was winning points she wasn’t earlier in the match.

After the match, I asked her about that point in the competition. What was happening?

“Oh, I choked,” she said, smiling.

“So I was winning 6-0 for set, second set I was up 5-0 and then I started to get like a little impatient, I guess to get it over, and then I just missed a lot,” she said. “My brain just kind of goes other places when I’m playing.”

That’s a battle she has to wage within the battle.

“Usually in all my matches I’ll be like really focused and into it, and then kind of nearing the end I’ll think, ‘Hmmm, I’ve got a lot of homework,’ or ‘What’s for dinner?’ or something like that,” she said.

When watching his best player play, Silverman knows when to get involved and when to sit tight. On Thursday, when Liang started to make up some ground, Silverman didn’t leave his chair. On Friday, in Beard’s semifinal against Santa Rosa’s Anwen Lin that Beard eventually won 6-4, 6-4, he had a word four times.

“It’s not a question of her skill set,” Silverman said Thursday.

So what brings Beard back into the match when she feels herself slipping out of focus?

“I start to lose,” she said. “Then I think ‘Oh shoot, I’ve got to win this next game or else it’s going to be pretty bad.’”

Liang said it’s Beard’s athleticism that is so hard to counter.

“I think her style is hitting back-paced balls, so I tried to take the pace off so she would have to create that pace herself,” she said.

A couple of times in their match, Liang couldn’t help but clap her racket in appreciation of one of Beard’s winners.

“Sometimes I try to predict where she’ll go, but she always hits it the other way. She rips it,” she said. “I try to guess a side because her ball is so fast, I feel like I can’t get it if I don’t guess.”

With Friday’s win, Beard locks up her invite to the North Coast Section tournament. Her goal there? To win it.

Because, get this — she might not be back.

So heavy is her tennis schedule outside of the Montgomery team, she is now weighing whether she’ll suit up for the Vikings next year.

“I have to do a lot of training on my own and it’s just really hard,” she said. “My dad is my coach, so technically I could train whenever, but after I’m done with school practice and stuff I have a lot of homework, I have stuff to do, so it’s hard to kind of practice on my own and hit with my dad and work on things I specifically need to get better at.”

“So I don’t really know if I’m going to play sophomore year, or continue doing high school tennis,” she said.

How will she make the call? There was a pause.

“See how I do in NCS,” she said. “If I don’t make if far in NCS, I think I’ll probably come back next year and like, make that my goal so that I do better than what I did this year.”

With that, there is potentially more riding on this tournament than usual.

What could be a years-long rivalry among some of the area’s top talent could lose a key component depending on how Beard’s NCS bid turns out.

I guess we watch her while we can.

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