Patricia Kirkland has had a fabulous high school tennis career. She helped Ashley Hall win three state titles -- and nearly a fourth -- while helping turn the Panthers into SCISA's top tennis program.

Yet, veteran Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley can only wonder what might have been if Kirkland had arrived on the Ashley Hall campus two years earlier.

"Patricia has been a great addition for us," Gastley said about the All-Lowcountry girls tennis player of the year.

A petite senior, Kirkland calls her Ashley Hall experience "a great four years. It's been as much as I could have expected. Three state titles and one runner-up ... a couple of points from a fourth."

Gastley, in her 24th year at the Ashley Hall helm, guided the Panthers to a rebound from two regular season losses to Porter-Gaud (one by a 5-1 verdict) to a third consecutive SCISA Class AAA state title, and in the process, earned Lowcountry coach of the year laurels.

Kirkland is joined on this year's All-Lowcountry team by Ashley Hall sophomore Narni Summerall, Porter-Gaud junior Mi'Kola Cooper, Porter-Gaud sophomore Annie Hay, Wando senior Clair Larkin and Colleton Prep junior Sarah McDonald. Kirkland is a three-time All-Lowcountry selection.

Since arriving at the Charleston private girls school from James Island High School as a freshman, Kirkland hasn't experienced losing very often. She thinks one reason for her success is that she doesn't let her size hold her back. "I think I'm a good fighter. I work hard in practice."

Kirkland still remembers her loss at No. 1 doubles in a match tiebreaker against Heathwood Hall in the 2007 state final that prevented the Panthers from winning another state title. It's been nothing but state championships since, and Kirkland has played a major role in all of them.

This fall was particularly satisfying to Kirkland and Gastley. Kirkland snapped a three-match losing streak to Porter-Gaud's Cooper by winning their final two confrontations this season, the last victory coming in the state final.

Kirkland now must decide on a future with or without tennis. She plans to take the pre-med college path.

"I'm trying to find the right balance between tennis and pre-med," she said. "I'm still looking around, but I will wait until the spring to make a decision."

She plans to play junior tennis until the end of the current school year before turning her focus to college.

Kirkland got her start in tennis in pro Toni Young's "tiny tots" kids program at Maybank Tennis Center.

"My dad signed me up when I was 5 as a daycare extracurricular program," she said. "I really liked it and I got into tennis. I started doing tennis camps with Toni after that."

Kirkland has trained under some of the area's top pros, including St. Andrew's Brian Burke, JoAnn Lee at MUSC, current Anderson University head coach Jerry Eskridge, when he was at the I'On club, and now with Or Dekel at Creekside Tennis and Swim.

"All of the different coaches over the years added something to my game. They helped me a lot," she said.

And, of course, she credits Gastley for playing a major role in the development of her complete tennis game, one that features doubles skills and immense tennis savvy.

"Coach Gastley's definitely been one of the most influential persons in my tennis and one of my best friends."

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.