PILOT MOUNTAIN — This may be the year in which the Northwest 1A Conference girls’ tennis trophy comes in Cardinal red and white.
East Surry put a stranglehold on the conference race Tuesday afternoon, taking on defending league champion Mount Airy and winning the match before the doubles was even contested, with five wins out of the six singles matches. The Lady Bears bounced back with wins in two of the three doubles, but the final outcome was a 6-3 triumph for the state’s second-ranked 1A team.
The Lady Cardinals improved to 9-2 overall and 4-0 in the conference. East Surry has already defeated both Bishop McGuinness and Mount Airy, its two main rivals in league action, and is ranked behind only defending 1A state champion Raleigh Charter in the latest N.C. High School Tennis Coaches’ Association poll. The team’s only losses were both by a 5-4 score to an unbeaten 2A squad.
It was the first win for the Lady Cardinals over their county rivals since September 15, 2015, when East downed Mount Airy 7-2 on the Lady Bears’ own courts.
Tuesday’s match was decided when the Lady Cardinals’ Daphne Dotson pulled out a narrow 6-4, 7-5 victory at No. 6 singles over Mount Airy’s Olivia Malone. Malone, a sophomore in her first varsity season, was likely done in by inexperience against her senior foe. Dotson rallied from down 1-4 in the first set and then scored a break at 4-5 in set two to gain the momentum and pull out the win.
Some of the other matches, which pitted an East Surry team of two seniors and four juniors against a Mount Airy squad of one senior, four sophomores and a freshman, went in a similar fashion. However, the No. 1 match pitted seniors Elizabeth Marion of Mount Airy and Haley Jennelle of East Surry. The last time Jennelle faced the Lady Bears, in the quarterfinals of last year’s playoffs, she held double match point in a singles match tiebreaker and couldn’t close out the match, which was part of a frustrating 6-3 defeat for the Lady Cardinals.
Jennelle had a measure of revenge on Tuesday. Down 2-3 to Marion in the first set, she earned back-to-back service breaks and won the first set 6-3, then won five of the last six games in set two for a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Her win made the team tally 4-1 in favor of the Lady Cardinals.
East took a 1-0 lead in the match when Carson Payne quickly closed out the No. 4 singles match with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Ashtyn Myers. Then Sarah Mann scored a 6-1, 6-3 win over freshman Olivia Perkins at third singles, and it was 2-0 Lady Cardinals.
At No. 2, Abigail Martin got off to a fast start in each of her sets and earned a 6-3, 6-1 win over Meredith Marion. This made the team tally 3-0 in favor of the home team. Mount Airy had held early leads in some of the singles matches and was hoping for a split, but things turned sour quickly.
The Lady Bears’ Anna Kate Tucker got Mount Airy on the board at No. 5 against East’s Haley Gilley. Tucker started out well and won the first three games, but then Gilley caught fire and won seven in a row to lead the match. Tucker trailed 2-3 in set two, but won four out of the last five to split sets and force a match tiebreaker, where she grabbed an early 6-1 lead and held on to win 3-6, 6-4, (10-7).
Jennelle’s win was next, and this meant the Lady Bears couldn’t afford to lose again. But when Dotson outlasted Malone in the final singles match still on the court, East Surry had the team win.
Mount Airy, however, still had pride to play for. Plenty of it.
Perkins and Malone, playing No. 3 doubles for the defending West regional champs, hammered Payne and Lili Craven 8-1 to remain undefeated this season. The Marion sisters teamed up at No. 1 doubles and won five of the last six games against Jennelle and Mann to win 8-3. In between, East Surry earned its final team point when Martin and Gilley dominated the No. 2 doubles match against Mount Airy’s Myers and Tucker for an 8-1 victory of their own.
The Lady Bears (6-4, 3-2 NW1A) will host Forbush on Wednesday and then travel to Bishop McGuinness on Thursday. East Surry will host North Stokes on Thursday in its only other match of the week.