The top junior tennis players in South Carolina will compete this weekend in the 57th annual Palmetto Championships.
It has been the premier junior tennis tournament in the state because it is the most important, said tournament director Rex Maynard.
The event, which is played in Belton and Anderson, serves as the state qualifier for the USTA Southern Sectional Championships, which will be Aug. 16-18 in Auburn, Ala. The South Carolina event usually takes place during the first week in June, but was moved up a week because a large number of schools are dismissing students later that usual.
We wanted to make sure we didnt have any delay qualifying our players for the Southern Sectional, Maynard said. This is the one tournament in the state where every top junior player is entered. Its a showcase for the talent we have in South Carolina.
There are five age-group divisions for boys and girls 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U.
Action begins Friday and runs through the championship and consolation singles matches in all divisions except 10U on Tuesday at the Belton Tennis Center.
Many Midlands players are entered, including Logan Atkins (Lexington), who recently dropped the consolation final in the Class 4A-3A singles championships to Zachary Dye of Berkeley.
Hayley Carter of Columbia and Ansley Speaks of Mauldin High are considered the favorites in the girls 18U division. Carter, who is home schooled, will continue her career at the University of North Carolina and is looking to secure the 15th Palmetto title of her career. She is tied for first on the Palmetto Championships wins list. Speaks will play at Furman. Carter defeated Speaks in the championship match last year.
Calissa Dellabarca of Blythewood is looking for her second straight Palmetto Championships title after a 10U triumph last year.
Spencer Brown of Spartanburg has won five straight singles titles, including last years 14U. He returns to compete in the 14U, where a win would set the tournament record for consecutive singles championships.
Belton is considered to be the tennis capital of South Carolina and is home to the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.
Tennis has been a popular sport in Belton since the 1920s, Maynard said. Tennis became popular and successful here. We dont have the numbers of adults playing that we used to, but we still have a strong junior program.
Beltons heritage keeps the Palmetto Championships in place.
You dont often see a tournament that attracts more than 400 players take place in a town with a population of about 4,000, Maynard said.