East Surry aiming for 1A tennis title on Saturday

By John Cate - jcate@mtairynews.com

For the past three years, the battle for the 1A state girls’ tennis championship has come down to Raleigh Charter vs. the Northwest Conference, and these two entities will square off in the rubber match this morning.

Two years ago, the Phoenix squared off with Bishop McGuinness in the state championship match, and the Villains scored one for the NW1A, beating Raleigh Charter 5-1. Last year, Mount Airy made it to the Finals to represent the NW1A after coming from behind to dethrone the reigning state champs in the West Regional final. However, the Lady Bears let two singles matches get away, went to the doubles down 4-2, and when RCH won one of the doubles matches, the title went to the Phoenix.

This year, it was East Surry’s turn. Mount Airy lost five of six starters off last year’s 26-2 state runners-up, and although the Lady Bears still made it back to the elite eight, they fell to Bishop. Meanwhile, East Surry, a state quarterfinalist in 2016 despite finishing third in the league, vaulted past both the Lady Bears and the Villains, beating the latter three out of four times, including a 5-3 victory in the West Regional final on Monday.

The Lady Cardinals (18-3) certainly didn’t have a cakewalk to get to today’s championship showdown. During the regular season, East Surry defeated four of the top eight teams in the final N.C. High School Tennis Association’s 1A poll. No. 3 Bishop fell three times, No. 4 Mount Airy was defeated twice, and the Lady Cardinals beat sixth-ranked Polk County and eighth-ranked East Wilkes as well. The only losses suffered came to Bishop and twice to Surry Central, the state’s 10th-ranked 2A team that went 18-1 and reached the elite eight of the 2A postseason.

East Surry enters today’s state championship match at the Burlington Tennis Center, located inside Burlington Municipal Park, as the state’s second-ranked 1A team. Ranked No. 1 all season has been defending champ RCH, with a perfect 14-0 record. The Phoenix last tasted defeat at the hands of Bishop in the 2015 finals, and this year’s victims included No. 7 Franklin Academy, No. 9 Chatham Central and No. 5 East Carteret on its way to the 2016 final.

Raleigh Charter returned four of its six starters from last year’s singles lineup that defeated Mount Airy, graduating its Nos. 2 and 6 players from that team and simply promoting its 3-5 players one notch in the lineup. However, the most difficult part of facing the Phoenix is the caliber of its No. 1 singles player, junior Camryn McClure. McClure has been one of the state’s top 1A players ever since she broke onto the scene as a freshman, finishing as state individual runner-up in 2015, winning the West Regional in 2016, and reaching the state semifinals in 2017. Last year, McClure won the No. 1 singles match of the state finals in double-bagel fashion, and then led RCH’s No. 1 doubles team to the championship-clinching win.

Four Raleigh Charter singles players — McClure, No. 3 Emma Rowe, No. 4 Vedika Birla and No. 5 Claire White — went unbeaten in the 2017 regular season. One Easy Surry player, No. 2 Abigail Martin, had a perfect 13-0 regular season and then won the individual Northwest singles title as well.

All six singles matches will be contested simultaneously beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. If neither team has five team points at the end of the singles, the doubles will be played and will continue until one team wins its fifth match. Last year, RCH was credited with a 5-2 win after taking the No. 1 singles by a score of 10-6, with Mount Airy holding match point at No. 2 and leading 8-7 at No. 3 doubles. Bishop won the 2015 title by taking five of the six singles against the Phoenix, and no doubles matches were played.

By John Cate