SILER CITY — Mount Airy’s girls tennis team is one match away from playing for the 1-A state championship, but they’ll have to beat a longtime nemesis to get there.
They had a pretty good idea who their opponent in the West Regional final would be as soon as they walked off the courts Wednesday evening, but they had to wait until Thursday night for it to be official.
The Lady Bears punched their ticket to the regional final with a 5-1 victory Wednesday night over Central Tar Heel 1-A Conference champion Chatham Charter. The match had been delayed for two days due to bad weather and poor playing conditions on Chatham’s home courts. Then they waited 24 hours for the teams in the other half of the regional to catch up.
When all was settled on Thursday night, it turned out that the regional final will be an all-Northwest Conference affair. As expected, Mount Airy (23-2) will face longtime NWC rival Bishop McGuinness (17-3) Friday at 4 p.m. for the right to represent the West in Saturday’s state finals. After waiting almost a week for a second-round match between East Montgomery and Gray Stone Day to finally be played, Bishop defeated East Montgomery 5-0 on Thursday by sweeping the first five singles matches in straight sets.
In the meantime, the Lady Bears had waited two days to play their match with Chatham. Once the match was finally able to be played, the Lady Knights proved to be tough, but not quite the equal of Mount Airy. The Lady Bears won five of the six singles matches, but two of the matches went to a tiebreaker after the players split sets, and each of the top four singles matches also included one set tiebreaker after the players played to a 6-6 tie.
Only one of the doubles matches was started before the match ended. Logan King and Elizabeth Bray led Allie Grace Culberson and Kayla Kidd 7-3 at No. 3 doubles when the victory was clinched by Lauren Brintle winning a hard-fought No. 1 singles match 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) over McKenna Nixon.
Chatham, which ended the season at 17-2, was at a disadvantage right away. The Lady Knights’ normal No. 1 singles player, Katya Landon, was injured in the semifinals of the individual state tournament on Friday. This shifted everyone in the lineup one spot upward, but all of the top four singles matches were still highly competitive.
Mount Airy jumped out in front 2-0 quickly, as Bray beat Megan Coble 6-1, 6-1 at No. 6 singles, and then King dismissed Kidd 6-4, 6-1 at No. 5 after rallying from down 3-4 in the first set. The next match to be completed was at No. 3, where Elizabeth Marion was broken at 6-5 in the first set and had to win a set tiebreaker 7-4 over Landin Eldridge. She took the second set easily, 6-2.
Allie Grace Culberson got Chatham on the board when she beat No. 4 Maya Hicks 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, (10-6) in a tiebreaker set after splitting two full sets. Culberson won the last five points of the tiebreaker set to take the match.
The No. 3 singles ended shortly thereafter. It had also gone to a tiebreaker set, but this time, it went the Lady Bears’ way. Coleman Craddock had let the second set get away from her after being broken at 5-5, then lost the last three points of a set tiebreaker. But she won the tiebreaker set with ease, and her 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), (10-4) victory put Mount Airy one more win from a happy ride home.
Brintle provided that, rallying from down 2-3 to win the first set and was down 3-4 in set two when darkness forced them to go to nearby Siler City Country Club and finish up. She rallied to force a set tiebreaker and won it.
The Lady Bears would have hosted Friday’s regional final had East Montgomery won, but will instead have to play at Bishop for the second time this season. That might be a good thing, since when the teams squared off in the regular season, Mount Airy beat the Villains 5-4 in Kernersville on Sept. 8, but lost to them 7-2 here on Oct. 1. Both matches hinged on just a few points either way.
In the Lady Bears’ win, Mount Airy got 11-9 wins at No. 2 and 3 doubles after splitting the singles matches. Bishop reversed the verdict in the rematch by winning the No. 2 singles in a tiebreaker set and by pulling out the closely-matched 2-3 doubles matches.
The winner plays for the state championship on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Burlington Tennis Center.