Jul. 14—Claire Hillman, just a sophomore, has built quite a resume with Donoho's tennis program.
She was a No. 2 singles state runner-up in 2018, as a seventh-grader, and No. 2 champion in 2019. She's a No. 1 singles state runner-up this season, and she teamed with Lily Grace Draper to become a No. 1 doubles state champion.
Naturally, add Calhoun County player of the year.
For all of her state credentials and a No. 1 singles title in this year's Red Wilder Invitational, the de facto county tournament, Hillman is The Anniston Star's Calhoun County player of the year for girls tennis.
Her successes individually helped Donoho finish second in the Class 1A-3A state tournament, a one-spot improvement from the Falcons' third-place finish in 2019.
There was no postseason in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hillman is spending her summer working as a Camp Mac counselor, but she called from camp to participate in The Star's player-of-the-year Q&A:
Question: Having had time to look back, what thoughts come to mind about the season?
Answer: This year, we weren't as confident about state, because we lost some seniors that didn't get to go to state last year because of COVID. We felt pretty good about the season. We were mainly undefeated the whole season, but without those seniors that we've had for the past every year, now that they were gone, we weren't as confident, but we actually ended up doing better than we have in a really long time.
Q: How much motivation came from the fact that last year's team didn't get the chance?
A: Well, we got a new coach (Hayley Loeken), too, so everything was just sort of different. It was more of, like, let's see what we can do, but yeah, we were very motivated to try to win state this year and to see how far we could get without everything being the same as it was.
Q: How do you feel about your season, individually?
A: This was my second year being No. 1 on the team. My first year sort of got canceled, so I didn't really get to see what I could do. It was very nerve-racking, because there were a lot of people older than me and more experienced than I am. I was just very nervous for this year, and especially state.
Q: What did it mean to get to the state finals as a No. 1?
A: I was very shocked that I got that far. Leading up to finals, it was scary, but also, I won a lot better than I thought I would. I think state, everything that I thought would happen did not happen. It was very just different from what I thought it would be. I thought everybody would blow me out of the water, but that wasn't the case.
Q: And to win state in doubles?
A: Winning doubles was probably the best feeling ever, because we had both just lost our finals in singles. We went out for finals in doubles, and were both kind of tired and just kind of down about everything. Then we won our doubles, and that was just the most fun match ever that I've had with Lily Grace.
Q: Considering how close you got this year, how much does that motivate you for next year?
A: I am very motivated to win state next year, with how close I came this year. I've been working very hard, besides being here (at camp). When I get back, I'll definitely be practicing a lot."
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.