Woodland High senior Breanna Shook recently signed to play tennis at Shorter University in Rome. On hand for the signing were, from left, front row, MaKayla Dowdy, sister; Jeremy Shook, father; Lori Dowdy, mother; Kenneth Dowdy, stepfather; back row, Beth Heath, WHS head tennis coach; Wes Dickey, WHS principal; John Howard, WHS athletic director; and Ashlyn Dowdy, sister. RANDY PARKER/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWSPosted Saturday, April 20, 2019 BY NICHOLAS SULLIVAN

Breanna Shook suffered a significant knee injury the day before the Woodland girls tennis team was set to face Buford in the first round of the 2018 Class 5A state tournament.

The timing of the injury seemed to be doubly bad for the then-junior. She had torn her ACL and meniscus, forcing Shook to miss the state matchup and putting her senior season very much in doubt.

“She’s one of those strong, determined young ladies,” Woodland tennis coach Beth Heath said of Shook. “She was very strong-willed, when the injury happened. The doctor first told her it would be 12 months. I told her, ‘Breanna, that would be the whole tennis season. You won’t play at all next year.’ She said, ‘You watch me, coach.'”

Shook was determined to be back in time to help the Wildcats this spring. They certainly needed her. After losing four seniors, including all three singles players from last year’s lineup, she would be needed to play on one of Woodland’s top lines.

It wouldn’t be an easy transition for Shook, because she’s a doubles player. That’s what she was at Woodland before the injury, and that’s what she’ll be at Short University, after signing with the Hawks in late March.

“She went from being a doubles player last year to a singles player this year,” Heath said. “But I think the coach at Shorter is very interested in her for doubles, because she is a powerful doubles player. She’s very good at the net; she hits the ball with a lot of power.”

While her playing style seems to certainly lend itself to doubles play, Shook also feels like her personality is better suited for the paired event.

“I like playing with a partner better, because you can talk to them, you can encourage them,” she said. “If they’re down, you can bring them back up. Or if I’m down, they can bring me back up. It’s just easier for me to play doubles to have somebody to talk to and somebody to work with rather than work by myself.”

Shook, though, wasn’t the only Wildcat asked to make the transition from doubles to singles. Three of the five doubles players Heath rotated on her two lines last season moved up to singles this year.

“Our top three players this year were our bottom three players last year, so transitioning from that was difficult for all of us, I think,” Shook said. “But I think, we did well with it. We went to state, and we were fourth in our region.”

Woodland’s trip to the state tournament was the third consecutive for the Wildcats. The team battled hard with top-seeded Riverwood in the opening round but came up short.

Heath said Shook wished the Wildcats had qualified for state her freshman season and reached the Sweet 16 at least once. Even still, it’s hard to call Shook’s time with Woodland anything but a success.

More than anything, she proved to be an outstanding leader for her teammates.

“Breanna was our No. 1 cheerleader, I can call her that,” Heath said. “She would gather the team together, when I was off trying to get names of the other players from the coaches, she would gather them together to do our little team meeting before we would take the court. …

“She definitely was our No. 1 leader on the team. We don’t have team captains. We don’t really do that sort of thing at our school, but she was my team captain without having that title officially.”

Heath said Shook is always organizing things for the team to do together outside of tennis — be it getting food, watching movies or even spearheading community service efforts.

“She just had a way with the girls,” Heath said. “… She makes it a very family, sisterly group.”

It’s one of the main things Shook said she’ll remember about her time with the Wildcats.

“Having a team that’s more than a team,” she said, “they’re like my sisters.”

Now, she’ll branch away from her primary family and her tennis family, as she heads to nearby Shorter. Shook listed several reasons the school was the right fit for her, including proximity to home and availability of financial aid.

However, the chance to combine tennis with her professional goals made the decision that much easier.

“It’s very hard to find a school that offers nursing and has a tennis program that I could have gotten into,” Shook said. “Shorter was probably my top choice with those two areas.”

It’s entirely possible Shook could have ended up at Shorter even without having made the tennis team. Frankly, the situation almost arose following her knee injury.

Shook showed a lot of strength — mentally and physically — to be able to beat those initial projections. She also proved early in the recovery process what one main motivator would be.

“I did physical therapy for about six months,” Shook said. “As soon as I got released to do any sort of activity, I started going to the tennis courts pretty much the day after.”

She added, “They told me, I probably wasn’t going to be able to play this year. Just coming back from that and overcoming that was pretty great.”