Unicorns return to state tennis finals for 7th straight time
The battle of the unbeatens went to N.C. Science & Math Wednesday at Whippoorwill Park.
The Unicorns stopped Carrboro (15-1) 5-2 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A East Region dual team tennis championship to earn a berth in the state finals for the seventh time in as many years, the first since being reclassified from 1-A to 2-A at the end of last season.
NCSSM (17-0), which won four straight state 1-A titles (2007-10), lost in the 1-A finals to Mount Airy in 2011 and 2012. The Unicorns will face five-time defending state 2-A champion Salisbury (17-3) in the 2-A state title match at Burlington Tennis Center at 9 a.m. Saturday.
It wasn’t easy getting to the finals.
It appeared early in Wednesday’s match that the Unicorns would have a walkover. After one set, NCSSM led all but one of the six singles flights, while needing only five wins to clinch the regional title.
The trend was to hold for all but the No. 1 singles match in which Carrboro’s Danielle Sawyer turned the tables on NCSSM junior star Lydia Yuan, losing the first set 6-1, but coming back to win the second 6-3 and taking the 10-point must tiebreaker 10-8 when Yuan double-faulted on match point.
Other singles winners were NCSSM’s Gabrielle Beaudry at No. 2, Rebecca Liu at No. 4 and sisters Anna and Rachel Xu at Nos. 5 and 6. Abby Rader had Carrboro’s other singles win at No. 3.
The loss, Yuan’s first of the season in dual team competition, forced the teams to head back out for doubles play to decide the regional title.
The Xu sisters put a quick end to any Carrboro comeback hopes with a 10-0 win at No. 3 doubles. The Nos. 1 and 2 doubles matches were immediately suspended with Carrboro up 6-5 at No. 1 and NCSSM ahead at No. 7-2.
Carrboro would have had to win all three doubles matches to pull off the unlikely comeback, but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility since the Jaguars had done exactly that in the state quarterfinals last week to get to Tuesday’s state semifinals.
“They fought, fought hard,” NCSSM coach Richard McClenny said of Carrboro, saying the outcome was always in doubt because of the Jags’ comeback from 4-2 down last week.
“We knew this was going to be the match we had to win (to get to the state finals),” McClenny said.
Carrboro coach Jon Noyes was upbeat after the loss, saying his team had a “fantastic” season and that he looks forward to coaching the same girls again since there isn’t a senior on the top six ladder.
NCSSM, which lost to Carrboro twice last season and saw all but one of its top six players — Beaudry — move on, has five juniors that could return next season.
“There’s not a senior in our lineup,” Noyes said. “Hopefully, we’ll beat ’em (NCSSM) next year. I’m sure we’ll be meeting them again.”
Both coaches sent up signal flares that NCSSM faces an uphill climb to a state title, speaking almost reverently of the power of the Salisbury program.
“Salisbury is stunning, plays impeccable tennis,” Noyes said. “They have a super high level of talent.”
Echoed McClenny: “We’ll have to play the match of our lives to pull it off. All their players are ‘tournament’ players, player who play in maybe a hundred tournaments a year. ... Lydia (Yuan) is our only ‘tournament’ player and that was before she got here.”
McClenny said NCSSM’s extraordinary academic demands basically kill any chances of players finding the time to see extensive tournament action during the academic year.
NCHSAA 2-A SEMIFINAL (EAST REGION CHAMPIONSHIP)
N.C. SCIENCE & MATH 5, CARRBORO 2
Dual Team Tennis Tournament
SINGLES — 1. Danielle Sawyer (C) d. Lydia Yuan 1-6, 6-3 (10-8); 2. Gabrielle Beaudry (NCSSM) d. Olivia Shaheen 6-0, 6-1; 3. Abby Rader (C) d. Jessie Huang 6-0, 6-2; 4. Rebecca Liu (NCSSM) d. Emine Arcasoy 6-2, 6-0; 5. Anna Xu (NCSSM) d. Allison Hutchinson 6-1, 6-1; 6. Rachel Xu (NCSSM) d. Jordan Owen 6-0, 6-0.
DOUBLES — 3. Anna Xu/Rachel Xu (NCSSM) d. Hutchinson/Jessica Weiner 10-0. Nos. 1 and 2 doubles were suspended upon match being decided by No. 3 doubles win by NCSSM.