Warriors tennis excelling despite rigorous early-season schedule
by Aaron Garcia
Sometimes, a tough loss says more about a team than a dominant win. Just ask the Weddington High School girls tennis team.
The Warriors, currently ranked No. 3 in the state, according to the N.C. Tennis Coaches Association 3A poll, ripped through their early schedule, downing Charlotte powers South Mecklenburg, Charlotte Latin and Ardrey Kell – all teams that figure to factor into their respective conference championship races at the end of the season.
With a 3-0 record, Weddington traveled to Charlotte stalwart Myers Park, widely regarded as one of the top Class 4A teams in the state.
At the end of the singles portion, the Warriors held a 4-2 lead. But inexperience reared its head in the doubles competition, and they dropped all three matches to fall to the Mustangs, 5-4.
“We weren’t on (our game),” said freshman Heidi Swope, the team’s No. 2 player.
“We got a little cocky (after our strong start), and it whooped us up.”
“At that point, I knew we were going to be good,” Warriors coach Mike Murphy said of the narrow loss to Myers Park.
“If you want to see how good you are, you want to play the good teams,” Murphy continued. “That’s why we try to play the Myers Parks, the Charlotte Latins and the Providences, because those are the matches that are competitive.”
For Weddington, it’s a tried-and-true approach. After completing a similar slate last season, the Warriors advanced all the way to the Class 3A semifinals and finished with a 14-7 record. Furthermore, top-seeded player Jasmine Gabriel, the 2010 Union County Weekly Girls Tennis Player of the Year, was a state semifinalist in the singles tournament, while then-teammates Sarah Carroll and Kindell Schmitt captured the state doubles crown.
“I think it definitely helped us toward the end of the year that we had played so many quality teams going into the playoffs,” Murphy said. “We didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen all year.”
So far this year, the Warriors have learned from the loss and improved their record to 7-1. Gabriel, just a sophomore, has been electric in the Warriors’ top spot with a 7-0 record. Swope has assimilated to the varsity game nicely as a freshman and is 7-0 as well. Third seed Casey Rowe is 6-1, while Nicole Luce (4-3), Emma Yates (5-2) and Lacey Hunter (4-3) have been solid in the fourth, fifth and sixth spots, respectively.
And so far, the lofty state ranking has been a nice reward for the Warriors.
“It’s really exciting to be ranked so high,” said Luce. “We really appreciate that we all work so hard for it. We don’t just pick up our rackets before the season and put them down (at the end). We play throughout the whole year and work as hard as we can.”
With the brutal non-conference schedule largely out the way, the Warriors are right in the middle of Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference play and currently are 2-0 with wins over Porter Ridge and Sun Valley. But Weddington has a built-in guard against complacency in conference rival Marvin Ridge, which is currently ranked as the ninth-best 3A team in the state. That certainly puts the Warriors’ ranking in proper perspective, said Murphy.
“The polls are nice, and it’s great to get that kind of recognition, but we still have to beat Marvin Ridge in order to get the (conference’s) No. 1 seed (for the state playoffs), and that’s our goal,” Murphy added. “We talk more about that than any kind of state ranking.”
The two teams were slated to meet for the first time on Sept. 21, but rain forced the match to be rescheduled. A make-up date has yet to be set, but the rivals are scheduled to meet again in each team’s regular-season finale on Oct. 10.
Though the initial match was rained out, Gabriel could see a difference in the team’s focus while preparing for the Mavericks.
“We get more focused before that game,” Gabriel. “This week of practice has been so intense.”
Which is a good thing for Murphy’s team. After all, there is still polishing to be done. The coach wants to see an improvement in doubles play, as well as a decrease in unforced errors. But all in all, Murphy is pleased with his team’s progress – at least so far.
“(Those are areas) of concern for me,” he said. “but overall, I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve started.”