FLORENCE, S.C. – Tennis has always been a Murrell family affair.
Jeff Murrell, the father, coaches the Trinity Collegiate girls’ tennis team. And, his 14-year-old daughter, Allie, is the Titans’ top seed as a freshman. As for 16-year-old Maggie Murrell, she played for the Titans last year before being accepted into Hartsville’s Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics.
After not getting to finish her season last spring with the Titan boys’ tennis team because of the pandemic, Maggie was especially looking forward to playing for the Eagles as a junior.
But, after GSSM resorted to online-only classes for this school year, that also took away Maggie’s chance to play on a tennis team there for 2020-21. But student-athletes in those situations have the opportunity to still play for a public school whose district he/she lives in.
In Maggie’s case, that’s West Florence High School, where she is the Knights’ No. 3 singles seed.
“For about a month, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a season at all,” Maggie said. “So, I just stopped playing. But then, after I found out that I could indeed play, I started practicing again.”
After Maggie found out she could have a season this fall, she had tennis partners in the household to choose from.
“I’d go out and hit with my dad twice a day to start getting ready for it,” Maggie said. “And obviously, there were also practices every day. It’s been great getting to be able to play this season. Otherwise, I would not have gotten to.”
That was good news for Allie, too, because she noticed her sister’s reaction after Maggie was unsure if there would be a season.
“I loved being teammates with Maggie last year,” said Allie, who recalled their roles on the 2019 Trinity team that was a state runner-up. “We’d support each other during our matches, and it was a lot of fun. When she thought at first she wouldn’t get to play, it was difficult to see her like that, because she had always played tennis. And now, to have her playing tennis again, that’s great for her.”
Of course, this makes for a hectic time for Jeff Murrell, who coached the Titans to their most recent SCISA Class 2A title in 2017.
“We had originally worked it out with (GSSM) that we would play each other this fall, and it would have been interesting if Maggie and Allie would have had the chance to play each other,” said Jeff Murrell, who added that the last time the sisters played in an official match was in the 12s division, and Maggie won.
As of Wednesday, Jeff has had the chance to watch Maggie play twice.
“Maybe they will have the chance to do that next year,” he said.
Maggie had her share of compliments about Allie’s play.
“She’s really confident on the court and knows her shots are going to work,” Maggie said of Allie. “She goes out there, and she wins.”
And Allie had her share of compliments for Maggie.
“She is very smart and knows how to beat anybody once they give her that opening,” Allie said.
But for now, each sister is having her share of success on her respective team. West Florence coach Abby Sullivan, whose team graduated two starters from its 2019 team, talked about how Maggie enhanced her team.
“Maggie contacted me after she found out (GSSM) was not going to have a team. And she was just very excited about getting an opportunity to play,” Sullivan said. “She was good friends with some of the girls on the team already. And that always helps a new player to be in an inviting surrounding.”
Then there was the added depth Maggie brings.
“We have three seniors on our team this year, and we are very fortunate to have a good group of seventh-grade girls come up, and two of them are participating at the varsity level,” Sullivan said. “To add Maggie’s experience in match play really helps out the entire team in that way.”
The season’s end is nearing for both sisters for this season. Trinity Collegiate plays Porter-Gaud today is a SCISA Class 3A semifinal in Sumter. And on Thursday, the Knights played South Florence in their regular-season finale.
Maggie was in West Florence’s lineup Thursday, and she was simply thankful to have one team to belong to – especially after seeing her spring season with the Titan boys’ tennis team so shortened.
Now, she has a deeper perspective on playing high school sports.
“I was sad last spring that our boys’ team didn’t get a chance to come back to state and see if we could do better than the year before,” Maggie said. “I know what it’s like not being able to play. So, being able to play is a really great thing.”
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