Unicorns come up short in 2-A tennis championship
Lydia Yuan was having issues with her serve.
Staring across the net at one of the premier tennis players in the state, Yuan knew if she could win service in this No. 1 singles game, she would win the match and give her North Carolina School of Science and Math team an important victory in Saturday’s 2-A state dual team championship final.
After four double faults and difficulty getting her first serve in during previous games, Yuan bore down and put away Alexandra Drye of Salisbury, taking the match 6-4, 6-3. It was a big win. Drye had just won the 2-A doubles individual title last week with partner Madeline Hoskins.
Unfortunately for NCSSM, the Hornets — overwhelming favorites — took the remaining five singles matches and the state 2-A title 5-1 at Burlington Tennis Center.
The match was delayed for an hour as tournament officials worked to dry the soggy courts that were saturated in Friday’s rains. And instead of starting all six matches simultaneously as usual, the times were staggered since some courts took longer to dry than others.
It was Salisbury’s (18-3) ninth straight year in the state 2-A finals, where they are now 10-3 and have won six consecutive 2-A titles.
NCSSM (17-1) came into the match unbeaten, but ended the season 17-1. It was the Unicorns fifth consecutive championship appearance and sixth in seven years, but first in 2-A since being reclassified from the 1-A ranks before this season.
The Unicorns won state 1-A titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and lost in the finals to Mount Airy in 2011 and 2012.
Yuan said her occasional struggles serving threw her off her game “a little bit. But my ground strokes were working today so that helped to balance the match.”
She said her strategy was to “try to keep her moving around the court” and “to lower my mistakes, mainly, but she played amazing. It was a really close match.”
Yuan knew Drye was “a great player,” but rather than intimidating her, being in the underdog role made her more determined, she said.
She said she began contemplating the improbable “after the first set when I knew I could beat her then. I just figured the second set would be just as easy. It gave me more confidence to win the second set.”
Ironically, before entering NCSSM, a prestigious statewise public boarding school for top junior and senior students, Yuan, of Charlotte, attended Charlotte Ardrey Kell, which lost in the 4-A finals Saturday to Cary Panther Creek.
“Yuan is really good,” said Salisbury coach Scott Maddox. “I knew Science and Math was a good team. We watched them in individuals (state championships). We watched Yuan and their doubles team.”
He said the Hornets victory came down to teamwork. “You win a lot of championships with 4, 5 and 6” players, Maddox said.
“(Madeline) Hoskins playing four was down one set and came back and won that set and won the tie-breaker (against Rebecca Liu). She was just as much an MVP as (No. 6 Grace) Steinman was” when the Steinman took the first set against Rachel Xu 6-0, lost the second set 4-6, then erased a four-point deficit to win the tiebreaker 11-9 and seal the team victory.
“The girls knew we probably had one more year before we were ready to knock (Salisbury) off,” said NCSSM coach Richard McClenny, who fielded a team of five juniors and one senior.
“But the girls competed better than I thought,” McClenny said. “It could have easily gone into doubles 3-all or 4-2, losing a couple of third set tiebreakers and then we were ahead on the last court. So I was very happy with the way the girls played, and it gives us some real momentum going into next year.”
“When we moved up (to 2-A) no one expected us to be here. We weren’t ranked in any polls or anything until the end of the season, when everyone saw we were undefeated,” McClenny said. “So the moral victory is that we’re here. It speaks to the consistency of the program, and the hard work that the girls put in.”
Mark Dreibelbis, assistant commissioner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, praised both teams as powerhouse legacies.
“It’s a traditional program. Obviously they’ve have a lot of success and they were pretty impressive today in their matches,” Dreibelbis said of Salisbury. “They came in and took care of business, and continuing that legacy can be as difficult as establishing it.”
“Noting that NCSSM was in 1-A last year, Dreibelbis said, “What was neat about them was they only had one senior on the roster. It’s pretty impressive to have a team of underclassmen do as well as they did.”
“We knew they were a really good team,” said Gabrielle Beaudry, the only senior on the team, who was presented with a state Sportsmanship Award. The match had a little extra significance for her. She is from Concord and her mother works in nearby Salisbury.
“As a team I think we definitely went as far as we could. We had four players at states for individual, and our team got to states for the dual team, so we did really well, Beaudry said. “Individually, this is my first singles loss. In doubles my partner (Rebecca Liu) and I went to states and I think we played well.”
NCHSAA DUAL TEAM
Salisbury 5, NCSSM 1
SINGLES — Lydia Yuan (NCSSM) d. Alexandra Drye 6-4, 6-3; Kayla Honeycutt (S) d. Gabrielle Beaudry 6-0, 6-3; Anna Flynn (S) d. Jessie Huang 6-2, 6-2; Madeline Hoskins (S) d. Rebecca Liu 2-6, 6-3, (10-4); Kathryn Rusher (S) d. Anna Xu 6-0, 7-5; Grace Steinman (S) d. Rachel Xu 6-0, 4-6, (11-9).
Doubles not played because outcome already decided.
Records — Salisbury 18-3, N.C. School of Science & Mathematics 17-1.