When things get tense, a junior brings a cool head and a steady hand to the Gaither High tennis team.
When the atmosphere is tense and the court action is intense, Gaither High's Ashley Mitchell is often the tennis player called upon. Partly because of Mitchell, the Cowboys have depth and are considered by many as hopefuls in the state championship race.
The junior No. 4 player for the Cowboys is not a year-round player and by her own admission not even close to being a highly skilled competitor, but she can handle her spot and helps maintain peace and tranquility for the team.
"Ashley has consistently been there for the team both on and off the court," said coach Michelle Wilson. "When there are personality conflicts, she helps smooth them over and bring the team together and when she is needed to step up her game, she finds a way to come through for us. We were trailing Wharton 2-3, when her game moved up a level to help win a doubles match that gave us a 4-3 win."
Because of wrist surgery, Mitchell watched her team from off court in her freshman season. But as a sophomore she earned a starting spot as No. 4.
Last year she recorded a 10-2 record and was voted rookie of the year by her coach and teammates. So far this season the North Pointe resident is 6-2 in singles and her team is 9-1.
"I wasn't sure I would be one of the first five this year, because I heard two high-ranked freshmen were supposed to join the team and would be one and two," Mitchell said. "Other good freshmen were also supposed to be here, so I had settled in my mind to be an alternate. But only one top freshman came and I earned back my spot at No. 4."
Because Mitchell doesn't play summer tournaments or take expensive lessons, she has no visions of personal glory in her sport or even of a tennis college scholarship. Her ambitions in tennis center on helping her team do its best.
Mitchell's grades are high enough to maintain sports eligibility, but not as high as she would like them to be.
"I need to improve in my academics to get ready for college," said Mitchell, who hopes to pull her grades up "to make my parents proud."
One of the reasons for Gaither's success in dual meets this season has been its doubles play. Brianne Williams, a freshman sensation and No. 1 player, plus No. 2 Liz Rogers, a senior who qualified for the state meet as No. 1 last season, don't play together as the No. 1 doubles team.
Williams plays with Mitchell and the two make an awesome undefeated duet.
Mitchell's goals for the team are ambitious, but attainable. She wants the Cowboys to win the Western Conference, capture a district and regional championship and do well in the state tournament.
She acknowledges a full team effort will be required to achieve those goals.
"I will have to work extra hard to keep up my part at No. 4 singles and as part of a doubles team," she said. "I think we have a shot at doing well or winning state this season."