NCA's Hollingsworth sisters won 2nd straight doubles title

·4 min read

Jun. 11—Newton County Academy tennis coach Pete Mazzella admitted he was slightly worried about some complacency from standout sisters Belle and Lilly Hollingsworth.

The pair had won a state championship in girls doubles in 2021 and were the favorites to repeat in 2022 — and any worry Mazzella had about a letdown quickly evaporated this past spring when the two began playing matches.

"At the beginning of the year, they picked up right where they left off," Mazzella said. "They actually had a better year this year than they did the year before."

Belle Hollingsworth, a senior, and Lilly Hollingsworth, a junior, went undefeated and were MAIS Class 3A state champions in girls No. 1 doubles, beating St. Augustine 6-1, 7-6 (5) in early May's championship match in Ridgeland. Because of their back-to-back individual state championships, the Hollingsworth sisters were named the 2022 Premier Preps Girls Tennis Players of the Year.

"These girls just amaze me," Mazzella said. "It was right up there with the first time they won. That first time is always special, but the second time kind of proves it wasn't just luck. I heard someone say recently, 'One of the hardest things to do is win a high school state championship, and it's even harder to repeat.' It was a great feeling to see them do that."

The sisters were also standouts on the basketball court for NCA, and Lilly Hollingsworth said they wanted to win even more this year, since it was the last time they'd pair up in high school, as Belle Hollingsworth graduated in May.

"The state championship was definitely more special to me because Belle was a senior, and I knew this would be our last sport to play together," Lilly Hollingsworth said.

Belle Hollingsworth said repeating as state champions wasn't the only goal.

"We had the same goal as last season, but we wanted to go bigger and have a perfect season along with the title," Belle Hollingsworth said. "We have played together our whole lives and knew this year would be it, and we wanted to go out on top."

Like Mazzella, Belle Hollingsworth said she thinks the two of them had an even better year in 2022.

"I agree with Coach Pete and think we got a lot better this year," Belle Hollingsworth said. "We had the pressure from winning last year, and I think that pushed us to work harder because it's hard to do it twice in a row."

Perhaps the most impressive feat for the two happened during late April's North State tournament in Greenville.

"They have a game that some spectators say is not the most fun thing to watch," Mazzella explained. "Our game plan for them is to lob it over the net player until something opens up for our net player, and then we'll put the ball away. That's how we got through the regular season. At North State, our lobs weren't working because it was too windy, so we had to hit a lot of ground strokes. I was happy to see them win that way. It showed they could do it and that they could still have confidence when their (regular) game wasn't working."

Making that switch in North State wasn't too difficult, Lilly Hollingsworth said. "Our normal game plan is to lob, but when it's windy that's very hard to do because the wind will carry the ball out of bounds," Lilly Hollingsworth said. "We just made the adjustment and hit cross-court and alley shots both games."

Looking ahead to next season, Lilly Hollingsworth said it still hasn't sunk in that Belle won't be playing alongside her, and she isn't sure whether or not she'll find another partner or move to singles in 2023.

"It will be hard to find a partner with as much chemistry as I had with her obviously, but I don't think it will sink in until next season," Lilly Hollingsworth said. "I honestly have no idea what next year holds. I am just going to do whatever Coach Pete thinks is best for the team."

Belle Hollingsworth said she'll be cheering her sister on during Lilly's senior year, and it's difficult to imagine not playing with her again in high school. That final embrace after winning state again carried with it a lot of emotions.

"It was definitely a bittersweet moment for me knowing that I would never compete for Newton Academy or play with her again, but I also knew we achieved every goal we set to accomplish this season," Belle Hollingsworth said.