RONDA — Mount Airy won’t yield the distinction of reigning 1A West Regional tennis champions without a fight.
It took until the very last match to decide it, but the Lady Bears joined conference rivals East Surry and Bishop McGuinness in the elite eight of the NCHSAA 1A state tennis playoffs on Tuesday with a 5-4 road victory over Mountain Valley Conference runner-up East Wilkes on Tuesday evening.
Mount Airy, now 13-6 on the season, pulled out the win when Olivia Perkins and Olivia Malone closed out the No. 3 doubles match with a 10-5 victory over Jordan Schubart and Samantha Carter. The teams had split the singles 3-3 and also the Nos. 1 and 2 doubles, which were being contested at the same time. Perkins and Malone lost their opening serve of the match, but held after that and finally earned a service break to lead 5-3, then a second one to lead 9-5 before finally closing out the win on serve.
The Lady Cardinals entered Tuesday’s match as the state’s fifth-ranked 1A team, one spot ahead of the Lady Bears. Of the previous five losses suffered by the team, two were to MVC champ Ashe County, a 2A school, with one each against East Surry, unbeaten 2A Surry Central, and at Mount Airy on Aug. 23. However, this one was on their courts, and the rematch went down to the wire.
It was clear things weren’t going to be the same this time when Leah Nance routed the Lady Bears’ Elizabeth Marion 6-1, 6-0 in the No. 1 singles match. Shortly thereafter, Lauren Rakes wrapped up a double-bagel win over Ashtyn Meyers at No. 4. East Wilkes had a 2-0 lead, courtesy of two players who had decisively avenged their defeats back in August.
Fortunately, not all of the Lady Bears were so out of form on this day. Perkins’ No. 3 singles match was the next to be completed. She got Mount Airy on the board by winning four out of the first five games in each set of a 6-1, 6-3 win over Faith Roberts. Then second-seeded Meredith Marion tied the match up. She easily defeated Katie Stokes in set one, but then gave up a service break to open set two and had to fight her way back from there. Finally, at 6-5, she got the break back and won the match 6-1, 7-5.
At No. 6, Malone lost her first service game of the match, but broke back to lead 2-1 and then held serve to win the first set 6-3 before dominating her second set for a 6-3, 6-1 win over Carter. Up 3-2, the Lady Bears could have closed in on the win, but East Wilkes freshman Schubart, who had lost a match tiebreaker against Anna Kate Tucker two months earlier, avenged that defeat on her home court. Schubart rolled to a first-set win, and then the two battled in a second set in which they traded breaks at one point. Tucker held multiple set points at 6-5, but lost that game and then a set tiebreaker, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2). The teams went to the doubles all tied up.
Elizabeth Marion found her game in the doubles, and she and her sister won four of the first five games of their doubles match against Nance and Roberts, eventually earning two more breaks for a 10-3 victory. However, Stokes and Rakes broke Meyers and Tucker three times at No. 2 doubles, going from down 2-3 to an 8-3 lead. The Lady Bear duo won the next two games, but then dropped the final two for a 10-5 setback, leaving the match’s fate in the hands of the third doubles.
Mount Airy will be back on the road on Monday, against another familiar foe. NW1A runner-up Bishop McGuinness (16-3) stunned previously undefeated Gray Stone Day on Tuesday and hosts the Lady Bears in the quarterfinals. In the first two meetings between the two schools, the Villains won 7-2 on Sept. 13, but just 5-4 eight days later in Kernersville, where three singles matches went to tiebreakers.