PCA tennis players eye state titles in team’s inaugural season

Published 2:29 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Porter’s Chapel Academy has a few state championship signs from baseball and basketball scattered around its campus. It has had some memorable moments in football over the years.

It has never been known for its tennis program, and for good reason. Up until this year, it basically did not exist. It hasn’t taken long, though, for PCA to plant its flag in this new world.

Six players advanced to the MAIS Class 3A North State tournament last week, and three — siblings Henry and Hadleigh Slayton, and Thomas Azlin — will play in the Class 3A state tournament Wednesday in Ridgeland.

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Henry Slayton will play in the No. 1 boys’ singles bracket, while Hadleigh Slayton and Azlin will team up in mixed doubles.

“It’s been a really good year for Porter’s Chapel, to go from not having a team two years ago to having six people qualify for North State,” Henry Slayton said. “We’re going to have a solid team next year, too.”

PCA started its tennis program in 2022, but it was more of a club team. Only a few players were on the roster, all of them girls, and not enough to field a full team. Hadleigh Slayton had to play No. 1 girls singles as a sixth-grader.

Several more players expressed interest in playing this spring, and a coach — former Warren Central standout Joseph Jabour — was recruited. Among the players was Azlin, who was not only new to the team but to the sport.

Azlin is a good athlete who is also on PCA’s football and baseball teams, but had never played tennis until this spring and said he didn’t even know most of the rules.

“I came in not even knowing if I was going to win a match. I started so nervous,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m definitely going to play again.”

During his postseason run with Hadleigh Slayton, Azlin has been pulling double duty. PCA’s baseball team is also in the playoffs, so he’s been shuffling practices and games with both teams as well as his schoolwork. Last week, he won two mixed doubles matches with Hadleigh in the North State tennis tournament during the day, then drove back from Decatur to play in a baseball game in the evening.

“It’s difficult with my grades, but with the two sports it’s not too bad,” Azlin said. “They’ve moved matches to where I’m available. I’ve been working. It’s a lot of working around stuff.”

Azlin added that playing tennis coinicided with a hot streak in baseball. He raised his season batting average 67 points in the last seven games.

“They might be complementing each other,” he said. “I was batting about .210 and got it up to .290 once I started playing tennis.”

While the junior Azlin is the plucky newcomer to PCA’s tennis team, the Slayton siblings are the grizzled veterans — even if Henry is a sophomore and Hadleigh a seventh-grader.

The Slaytons have played in the city of Vicksburg’s program with longtime coach Rick Shields, and on the USTA junior circuit around the state for several years. Compared to the highly-competitive world of the USTA, Henry said playing on the high school level is a relaxing walk in the park.

“It is a lot more competitive in USTA than high school tennis. I’ve played 10 matches in a weekend in USTA. They make sure you get a break in high school. You’re not having to play three matches before noon,” Henry said.

Henry has gone 3-2 in the postseason, with both losses to Deer Creek’s Cooper Janious. Henry hopes to see his nemesis one more time.

“Every time we play we get in tiebreaks, and last time I was worn out from playing three matches in the sun,” said Henry, who has also qualified for the MAIS Class 3A state track meet in the 800 meters. “Nobody has byes this time.”

Hadleigh Slayton is playing doubles for the first time, after playing singles growing up. She didn’t pair up with Azlin until the District 3-3A tournament two weeks ago, but said Jabour prepared them well for it.

“Coach Joseph mixed us up so much in practice that you play with everybody at some point,” she said.

She added that she’s taken to the different style and slightly different rules in doubles.

“I had never played doubles before this year. I played some in practice, but I was able to adjust. In singles they have two alleys and you have to keep it in between them, so doubles is a little easier,” Hadleigh said.

Hadleigh and Azlin won the District 3-3A championship, but finished as the runners-up at North State to Newton Academy’s Ayden McDill and Chris Chertkow. After seeing them once, Hadleigh said she and Azlin are a bit more ready for a potential rematch.

“We know how his serve is and to return it, and who the weaker link is,” Hadleigh said.

Breaking through with a state championship, Azlin added, would be the icing on the cake to a great inaugural season for PCA’s program.

“It’s definitely exciting and not expected,” Azlin said. “It’s huge compared to last year.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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