RUSSELL The eyes of Georgetown College women’s tennis coach Jessica Cunningham widened as she scanned the large gathering in Russell’s library.
“Quite a crowd,” Cunningham said to the after-school audience for senior tennis player Maci Ferguson’s signing. “It’s a testament to Maci as a tennis player, student and person. It’s the biggest turnout I’ve seen at one of these.”
The seventh-year Tigers coach and Ashland native was especially impressed by all the Georgetown gear being worn in the room.
“It was amazing,” Cunningham added a few minutes later. “It’s really fun. At Georgetown, we have a good family following where they travel to all our matches. It’s nice seeing that kind of support here. They will fit in so well with our program.”
Groups of Ferguson’s relatives travelled as far as six hours across the state despite tricky weather conditions. Russell was on a two-hour delay Monday.
Maci’s friend and future Georgetown teammate Grace Gorby — a senior at Grayson County — even made the trip. Gorby rode with one of Ferguson’s aunts, for whom she has worked as a babysitter.
“I’ve been playing USTA tennis with Grace for a while,” Maci said. “I was surprised to see her. That’s pretty cool.”
The two players will be roommates at Georgetown.
Originally, Ferguson wanted to join former Russell doubles partner Kierstin Hensley at West Virginia State. They won two Kentucky high school championships together and also had a runner-up finish.
But after making some college visits, Ferguson said she was sold on Georgetown’s coach, academics and small-school appeal.
“Once I went there I knew,” Ferguson said. “I loved Jessica. She’s so genuine and honest about everything. They have a pretty good program going.”
Georgetown returned everybody — including Ashland’s Lauren Fazenbaker — after finishing 22nd in the NAIA rankings last season. The Tigers advanced to the national tournament for the first time since 2008.
Cunningham views the signing of Ferguson as another major step.
“You’re looking at a future All-American in college tennis,” Cunningham told the crowd. “I truly believe that. The minute she stepped on the Georgetown campus, I knew Maci was going to be a success.”
Longtime Russell athletic director Sam Sparks, who retired this year, also spoke highly of Ferguson’s character and dedication to excellence, calling her a “shining light.” Maci is one of the top students in her senior class.
Larra Ferguson has coached oldest daughter Maci on the Russell team since she was a sixth-grader.
“She’s definitely made it fun,” Larra said. “As proud of Maci as I feel as a coach doesn’t compare to what I feel as a mother. She’s always been a good kid … kind-hearted, and she would do anything for anybody. She’s so driven and self-motivated, it made my job easy.”
Cunningham looks for Ferguson’s extensive doubles background to transition well to the college game.
“It’s what you play first,” the coach said. “It’s really hard to win a college match when you don’t win two of the three doubles courts.”
Ferguson won the 16th Region singles title as a junior. She entered the State Tournament as a 5-8 seed, then rolled through her first matches in straight set before dropping a third-set tiebreaker in the Round of 16.
“I was glad I got to experience being in the singles draw,” Maci said. “It definitely requires different qualities of play. It will probably help me in college, too.”
Ferguson continues to sharpen her skills working with instructors Laurie Mercer and Jamey Sellars.
“Laurie’s just really, really intense, but she knows what to teach you,” Maci said. “She’s helped me improve my game toward the college level.”
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