Maggie Dowling, who has competed in matches as the No. 1 player for Cartersville for two years and as No. 2 her freshman year, said she used to devote her practices to not losing.
That ended last season when her string of winning every match was halted by a Mt. Paran player.
Dowling, who signed a scholarship Thursday to Central Alabama Community College, said her practices since the loss have been more about improving her overall game.
"It's helped me in my matches," she said. "I'm not as nervous about losing and don't choke on the tight points."
Dowling said with her fear of losing gone, she also focuses during the match on the game itself and her performance, and she also believes it has let her play closer to her abilities.
"I don't think about my score and just take it one point at a time," she added.
Dowling, 48-3 after three years at Cartersville, is in a sport where the No. 1 player competes against the opposing team's toughest player throughout the season and that means some very good opponents are awaiting her volleys across the net.
Many of those opponents have been older, with some already signed to full scholarships with major universities, so it's more a matter of when a player is going to lose rather than if.
Dowling said she now has more fun in the sport. "I feel like a weight has come off me."
The Cartersville tennis star said she has played the game virtually all of her life.
"My dad (Tom) started me when I was 4 along with my brother Patrick, and I've been playing ever since," she said.
Dowling said she likes the game because of its competitive nature: "I just like competing."
Dowling said while she has been in a lot of matches at her high school, the one that stands out for her was last year when the Lady Canes were playing Carrollton in the regionals.
The Lady Canes had lost to Carrollton in the regular season and the two teams had won two matches each in the region battle.
Since Dowling was still playing, she knew her match would determine the region champ.
"We had to go to a third game," Dowling said. "Winning that match was really my highlight at Cartersville."
Now, Dowling will be carrying her game to the next level at Central Alabama. She became interested in the college after visiting its campus.
"They have nice facilities and they are a successful program," she said. "I like their coach, and they will be competing at locations in Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. "
She said she will concentrate on "core courses" while at the two-year college.
"I would like to major in art, but I think I'll try to get my core courses finished and keep my options open," she said. "My plans might change."
Karen Ruff, who coached Dowling three years at Cartersville, said Central Alabama is getting a competitor who will contribute to their program in a lot of ways.
"She is not only a good tennis player but is a good person and leader," the retired Cartersville High coach said. "She's one of those who really walks the walk."
Ruff said Dowling has developed her skills to a great degree under the tutelage of a number of good tennis coaches she has been associated with locally.
"She's worked very hard with J.P. (Vidour) and Mysti (Lancaster), and they have helped her develop quite a skill set," she said. "I think she will make a solid impact at Central Alabama, and I am thrilled for her."