PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry’s girls’ tennis team has so far picked the wrong year to have a banner season.
The Lady Cardinals have a reasonable argument that they might be the second- or third-best 1A team in the state this season, and they’ve been ranked in the top 10 all year long. But when you’re in the same conference with Mount Airy and Bishop McGuinness, sometimes it’s easier to make an impact in the state playoffs than in league play.
Coach Ashley Powell’s team received a forfeit win over Winston-Salem Prep on Thursday evening, improving the team’s record to 15-2 and 9-2 in Northwest 1A Conference play. Prep planned to enter the conference race this season and scheduled matches, but proved unable to field a team this year. There is no realistic chance that the Lady Cardinals can overhaul top-ranked Mount Airy for the conference title, but they have a very strong chance to finish in a second-place tie with Bishop. The two schools have split their meeting this season, with East losing 6-3 at Bishop on Aug. 25 but then beating them 5-4 at home on Sept. 20. A freshman, Sarah Mann, made the different for the Lady Cardinals in the rematch, winning her No. 4 singles match in a tiebreaker set after rallying from a set down. Mann and sophomore teammate Carson Payne then decided it in East’s favor when they won a tiebreaker set at No. 3 doubles for a 10-10 (10-8) victory. It marked the first time that East Surry had ever knocked off the Villains.
The Lady Cardinals can take second place outright if they can upset Mount Airy in their regular-season finale on Oct. 6, but even if they lose this match, both East Surry and Bishop (11-4) are likely to make the playoff field, either as the Northwest No. 2 team or as a wild-card entry. Prior to facing the Lady Bears, East will visit North Surry on Oct. 3 for a non-conference match.
In the team’s most recent match that was decided on the court, the Lady Cardinals pummeled West Stokes 9-0 in a non-conference tilt on Wednesday. This was the last regular-season match for East Surry seniors Klaudia Tucker and Mikayla Manuel, the team’s Nos. 2 and 5 singles players. In singles, the teams played a single set to eight games because of rain delays, rather than the usual two sets to six games.
In singles, going down the lineup, Haley Jennelle beat Stephanie Henry 8-2, Tucker downed Natalie Hughes 8-1, Abigail Martin defeated Anna Brown 8-0, Mann topped Rebekah Martin 8-0, Manuel blanked Caroline Cook 8-0, and Carson Payne scored an 8-0 win over Alyssa Bennett.
The only one of the doubles matches that was completed to the full eight points was the No. 3, where Mann and Payne beat Rebekah Martin and Bennett 8-0. Jennelle and Martin won the abbreviated No. 1 doubles 4-1, and Tucker and Manuel won 5-0 in a shortened No. 2 doubles match.
The secret to East’s success, as it has been for Mount Airy this season, is exceptional depth up and down the lineup. One example is Mann, who has a 9-2 record as a No. 4 or 5 singles player. Manuel, who has battled Mann for the fourth slot all season long, is 8-2 at 4 and 5 this year. Martin is a perfect 6-0 at No. 3 singles and has also taken six turns at No. 2, with a 4-2 record. At No. 6, Payne is 7-3.
Jennelle has had an up-and-down season in a conference where there are multiple individual state title contenders at No. 1 singles, playing her foes to a 6-6 draw. But she and Martin have been quite formidable at No. 1 doubles, going 10-4.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.