The N.C. High School Tennis Coaches Association will have to flip its rankings yet again.
Following Bishop McGuinness’ victory over East Surry two weeks ago in Pilot Mountain, where the Villains swept the doubles matches and claimed a 6-3 victory over the Lady Cardinals, Bishop grabbed the No. 2 spot in the organization’s 1A poll, and East Surry fell to third.
In fact, the Lady Cardinals still had some work to do in order to secure a share of the Northwest Conference title, which they accomplished last week, culminating in their victory over Mount Airy that pulled East Surry into a first-place tie as the regular season ended.
However, that still left the matter of who would earn the No. 1 seed out of the conference for the upcoming state playoffs, and with it, the right to play more home matches in what will be a very tough playoff draw. Seven of the state’s top 10 1A teams are likely to be assigned to the West Regional, and whoever received the NW1A’s top seed earned a first-round bye and at least one extra home match.
East Surry and Bishop decided they would settle the matter on the courts, agreeing to play a rubber match on Monday afternoon in the same place they’ll play the individual tournament starting today — the courts at Mount Airy High School.
This time, the Lady Cardinals turned the tables on the Villains, and Monday’s showdown produced a 6-3 East Surry victory.
The Lady Cardinals (15-3 overall) won the first four singles matches to be completed, and even after Bishop finished things up by taking the Nos. 4 and 6 singles, that left the Villains needing to sweep the doubles to grab the top seed. They had done this the last time, when Bishop played a different lineup than it had in the first meeting between the teams back on Sept. 7, but this time East Surry was ready for it. The Villains won at No. 3 doubles to make it 4-3, but then the Lady Cardinals’ Haley Jennelle and Sarah Mann outlasted Becky Auger and Claire Rogers 10-8 at No. 1 doubles, and victory was assured.
The teams came into the third meeting with the same lineups as they had on Sept. 26 in Pilot Mountain, with the exception of Bishop entering a different player at No. 6 singles. East Surry started well, as it had then. Abigail Martin scored a 6-4, 6-2 win over Lydia Cortes at No. 2, and then Sarah Mann downed Claire Rogers 6-1, 6-4, and East led 2-0. The tally went to 3-0 when Haley Gilley routed Megan Standen 6-1, 6-1 at No. 5 singles. Still, all of these were matches the Lady Cardinals were expected to win.
While all of this was going on, East Surry’s Haley Jennelle was mounting a brilliant comeback against the Villains’ No. 1 singles player, Becky Auger. Over the past two seasons, the two had met four times in No. 1 singles matches, and Jennelle had never won a set. This year, she’d won only seven games in losing four sets to the Villains’ top player.
Set one was more of the same, a 6-1 rout for Auger. But Jennelle fought back in set two, held serve and earned a break, and ended up taking the set 6-3. Auger likely still felt confident going to a match tiebreaker, but her foe continued to hold tough, and as the final score read 1-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-7) for Jennelle, the final chapter of the 2017 Northwest Conference regular season began to take on a reddish hue.
Bishop wasn’t going down without a fight, though. Olivia Kennedy defeated East’s Daphne Dotson 6-3, 6-1 in a match that ended right after Jennelle’s victory. The Villains’ Michelle Petrangeli kept her team’s hopes alive when she beat Carson Payne in a match tiebreaker, 5-7, 6-2, 1-0 (10-2). The singles ended 4-2, but East still needed one doubles win for the top seed.
Standen and Kennedy rolled 10-3 in the No. 3 doubles, the first match to end, and the East Surry lead was down to 4-3. The Lady Cardinals needed just one win in the last two, but the odds were improving for the Villains.
Two weeks ago, Jennelle and Mann had been beaten 10-7 at No. 1 doubles by Auger and Rogers, but this time was different. In a tightly contested match, the Lady Cardinal duo won 10-8, and the all-important fifth team point belonged to East Surry. Martin and Gilley put a cherry on top of the win by avenging their loss to Cortes and Petrangeli rather emphatically, 10-5.
Both teams will advance to the 1A dual-team playoffs starting on Oct. 18. The win gets East a bye into the second round, where it will play either the PAC-7 conference champion (currently a tie between Pine Lake Prep and Community School of Davidson) or a wildcard team. The Villains (14-3) will face a wildcard team in the opening round, then travel to No. 9-ranked Gray Stone Day, the Yadkin Valley champion, if they win.
Eighth-ranked Mount Airy (11-6) will wait until the brackets are announced on Oct. 16 and hope for one of the wild-card berths.