Prep tennis: Salisbury 6, Ashbrook 3
By Bret Strelow
The season opener presented Salisbury’s girls tennis team with a scenario the Hornets didn’t have to face last year until they reached the 2A state final.
Second-ranked Salisbury kicked off its 2008 campaign with a 6-3 win against Ashbrook, the seventh-ranked team in 4A, on Wednesday.
Hannah Lebowitz, Shea Comadoll, Joy Loeblein and Erika Nelson triumphed in singles for the Hornets. Loeblein and Nelson,both freshmen, provided the decisive doubles victory before Lebowitz and Kirstin Meyerhoeffer could wrap up a win at the top spot.
Last season, Salisbury clinched each of its 22 victories before the start of doubles. It suffered its only loss ó a 5-4 setback against Greene Central ó in the dual-team title match.
“The girls have to get out there and sweat and feel the nerves and have some close matches,” Salisbury coach Chris Myers said. “That was the case today. Last year, every single match until the state finals had been over heading into doubles. There’s no pressure; that doesn’t make the girls mentally tougher. Today was one of those small tests.”
Salisbury will play South Rowan today and defending 3A champion Charlotte Catholic at home Friday. Hickory, which won the 3A title in 2006 and was eliminated by Catholic in last year’s Western final, is scheduled to visit Salisbury five days before the start of the dual-team playoffs.
The Hornets faced Ashbrook for the third straight season. They won 5-4 in 2006 and 8-1 last year against coach Richard Carsner’s relatively young squad.
Five of the top six from Ashbrook’s lineup that afternoon played Wednesday.
“Matches like this, you learn a lot,” Lebowitz said. “Everything you get out of a match like this, it helps you down the road.”
The middle courts featured the most competitive matches. Ashbrook trailed 3-0 before Brittany Hovis won 6-2, 6-3 against Meyerhoeffer at No. 2, and Comadoll prevailed 6-4, 6-1 against Ariel Burgoon at No. 4. Ashbrook’s Maddy Steffey closed singles play with a 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) victory against third-seeded Brooke Johnson.
Loeblein and Nelson even beat the top-seeded Lebowitz ó a 6-3, 6-0 winner over Ashley Hovis ó off the courts.
Nelson exited first with a 6-0, 6-0 shutout of sixth-seeded Becca Lane. Loeblein followed with a 6-0, 6-1 win against fifth-seeded Emily Steffey.
Loeblein and Nelson, the newcomers to a top six that lost state doubles champions Susie Wear and Casey Collins to graduation, collected a 10-3 victory as Salisbury’s third-seeded pairing.
“In singles they took care of their business, and what I’m really impressed with is the way they’ve been playing doubles together,” Myers said. “They may not make every shot, but they’re always in the right place.”
Lebowitz was a freshman two years ago, and her contributions helped the Hornets capture a state title. She is now Salisbury’s most experienced veteran even though Meyerhoeffer, Johnson and Comadoll are all seniors.
The 2006 squad had three seniors in the top six, and Lebowitz went 26-2 as a sophomore playing ahead of Collins and Wear.
“They helped me out a lot, and I’m trying to be a leader,” said Lebowitz, who is 55-3 in her singles career. “That’s a different role for me.”
Puja Patel handed Lebowitz both of her losses last year. One came in a 2A singles semifinal, and the other occurred in the dual-team final against Greene Central.
The Rams lost only one of their top six players to graduation, but Patel has relocated to a tennis academy and fourth-seeded Cally Hudson has transferred.
The top spot in this year’s preseason poll belongs to Cardinal Gibbons, which lost 5-4 to Greene Central in a dual-team quarterfinal last October. The Crusaders have a talented freshman at No. 1.
Salisbury, Greene Central and Edenton Holmes ó which returns five of its top six players ó occupy the next three places in the statewide rankings.
“I’m trying to push myself to get to that next level, and I know the whole team is doing the same,” Lebowitz said. “Because in the past we’ve had successful seasons, we want to keep that going.”
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