Jackson Makes Splash in USTA Action
Few junior tennis players from Moore County have ascended to the national stage. In early September, Mary Beth Jackson of Whispering Pines did just that when she competed in the Colonial Family Practice USTA Regional Tournament in Sumter, S.C.
The 14-year-old freshman at Union Pines High School made the final 16 with a win over Nicole Katzarkov of Coral Gables, Fla. Much more impressive to her parents, Wade and Tracy Jackson, she received the Sportsmanship Award, which was voted on by all the players in her division.
Fourteen months ago, Mary Beth Jackson was unknown on the North Carolina tennis scene. That all changed on a muggy day back in August 2011 when the then 13-year-old pulled off two upsets in the Girls 14s division at the North Carolina State Championships.
First, she dispatched Loren Kim — the 48th ranked player in the state — in three sets. She then followed that victory by defeating 33rd-ranked Jasmine Fuchs on the stadium court at the Cary Tennis Center. At the time, Jackson was barely ranked inside the top 100 in the state.
“Watching her in that tournament, I realized she had a real shot of reaching her goal of playing Division I collegiate tennis,” said her coach, Aaron Priest. “She was way behind the top girls when she began working with me, but she is closing the gap fast. Her work ethic, athletic gifts, and taste for the biggest stages set her apart.
“Most importantly, though, she has a fighting spirit and a self-belief few players have. She is a true performer, and she thinks big.”
More than a year gone has passed since that fateful day, and Jackson has continued to rise. In May 2012, she became the third girl from Moore County (joining Hannah Priest and Neena Wanko) to qualify for the prestigious Southern Closed in Macon, Ga., by winning three matches at the Tar Heel Qualifier in Winston-Salem before falling in three sets to Mari Fujino, champion in the 2011 NCHSAA 3-A Mideast regional tournament.
This July, Jackson dropped just eight games en route to winning the Pinehurst Junior Tennis Classic in the Girls 16s division. A month later, she made her national debut in South Carolina and has no plans of slowing down.
“I started playing competitive tennis later than most girls,” said Jackson, “but I know I can catch up with the top players in the state or the South, or maybe even the nation. I just want to see how far I can go.”
According to Priest the sky is the limit for his young charge. “I coached my sister, Hannah, last summer at a professional event in Atlanta,” he said, “and if Mary Beth keeps working hard and loving the sport, I could see her playing on stages like that one day.”
Mary Beth’s father, Wade, keeps things in perspective, pointing out “the lessons learned on the tennis court will serve her well throughout life. She understands that you don’t always win, and how you handle yourself after a loss is what’s important. We are proud of her for receiving the sportsmanship award in Sumter as it is a testament to her attitude and how she is viewed by her peers.”
Currently, Jackson is ranked No. 26 in North Carolina in the Girls 14s and No. 59 in the Girls 16s. But she doesn’t put too much stock in rankings. “They’re just numbers,” she says. “If I play well and fight my hardest, my ranking will take care of itself.”
In addition to USTA tournament tennis, Jackson, a freshman, is the top-ranked player on the Union Pines Lady Vikings tennis team coached by the legendary NCHSAA Hall of Fame member John Frye.
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