Prep tennis: Talented East has new leader

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2008

By Bret Strelow
The tennis preview …
Laurie Wyrick played for Worth Roberts’ first girls tennis team at East Rowan.
Roberts remains in the picture as Wyrick prepares for her first season as the Mustangs’ coach.
Roberts’ coaching career, which lasted nearly 30 years, came to an end last October when Asheville eliminated East’s girls from the tennis playoffs.
Shane Tolliver directed the boys program in the spring. Wyrick, whom Roberts coached in 1980, has taken over a girls team that won a conference title and enjoyed an unbeaten regular season last year.
Wyrick said she will welcome any input from Roberts, who plans to attend matches from time to time.
“He’s always been somebody I’ve had so much respect for,” Wyrick said. “I want him to be proud of the program. I feel a little pressure, but he hasn’t put any on me. He’s done nothing but be encouraging.
“He came out one day, and he’s been great. He’s very easy to talk to, and I don’t feel like he’s judging being there. He’s supportive.”
East returns four of six starters from a squad that capped a 13-0 regular season with a 5-4 victory against Northwest Cabarrus. The Mustangs defeated Franklin in the playoffs before falling to Asheville.
Emilee Smith, Hannah Kovach, Brittany Honeycutt and Emily Beck were key contributors to that team. Senior Caitlyn Frye, sophomore Devan Corpening and freshman Megan Bullins are competing for the other two spots, and the roster also includes a pair of juniors in Brett Kesler and Jessica Utley.
“It’s been a change for everybody, but we have a great lineup back,” Wyrick said. “We’ll try to keep things as consistent as possible. The girls have been wonderful.”
Smith played at No. 1 for East last season and went 14-4 in singles. Kovach (12-3), Honeycutt (12-3) and Beck (13-2) also had impressive records.
Five teams went at least 6-3 in the NPC, with Statesville and Mooresville tying for second at 7-2. Lake Norman and Northwest Cabarrus shared fourth.
Lake Norman, helped by the addition of Statesville Christian transfer Kathryn Talbert, is favored to win the conference this season. The Wildcats, ranked 10th in 3A, already have beaten Hickory and Newton-Conover.
“We want to be conference contenders,” Wyrick said.
West Rowan, Carson and South Rowan are also members of the 10-team NPC.
West lost four starters from a team that placed sixth in the league last year. Juniors Kate Ritchie and Sarah Teel are back, and the Falcons will count on junior Ellen Watts as well as sophomores Madison Rusher and Maggie Daniel.
Carson will rely on Courtney Cress, Carol Brown, Katie Smith, Jada Holloway, Kaitlyn Craft, Julie Tonnesen and Cecil Swain.
South’s lineup has featured Stephanie Chavez, Leslie Freeze, Andrea Lambert, Catlin Halyburton, Marissa Holman and Brooklyn McCoy.
Salisbury, which has reached three straight 2A finals, and North Rowan are together in the CCC for one more season.
Hannah Lebowitz, Kirstin Meyerhoeffer, Brooke Johnson and Shea Comadoll return to the Hornets’ lineup. Freshmen Joy Loeblein and Erika Nelson have stepped in and shown promise.
“I’m real excited about the freshmen on the team,” Lebowitz said. “They’ve stepped up and improved so much.”
North, which won two matches last year, started this season with victories against South and Carson.
Four of the Cavaliers’ top six players are back. Five starters ó Corbin Bennett, Diamond Jackson, Kayla Morgan, Caitlin Crawford and Melinda Mitchell ó are juniors. Kelli Berry is a sophomore.
Crawford, who often played at No. 6 last year, is now at No. 3. Bennett, a track standout who is again the top seed, qualified for the Midwest Regional last season by going 4-1 in the CCC tournament.