Salisbury tennis 6, West Henderson 0
By Bret Strelow
The most encouraging result didn’t even impact the outcome of Salisbury’s first-round playoff match.
The Hornets opened 2A dual-team tennis play with a 6-0 victory against wild-card entry West Henderson on Tuesday afternoon. Salisbury (19-1) needed only an hour to secure four singles wins, and top-seeded Hannah Lebowitz officially eliminated the Falcons (11-4) with a straight-set decision against reigning state quarterfinalist Amie Cloer.
Third-seeded Brooke Johnson, who has struggled in tiebreakers, then closed the match with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-3) win against Jessica Tobin.
“At the end of last year she came close but lost some tough matches,” Salisbury coach Chris Myers said. “It’s one of those things where, until you’re over the hump, you win one of those matches that is so close and your luck can turn around.
“It’s absolutely just a mental thing, and that’s why it’s so important that the kids figure it out on their own and overcome that adversity.”
Johnson ó an all-county cross country runner ó missed the Central Carolina Conference meet in order to compete against West Henderson. She lost the first three games of the second set, held serve to erase deficits of 5-4 and 6-5, then claimed the final four points of the tiebreaker.
Johnson has compiled a 34-8 singles record during the last two seasons, and she’s 2-4 in tiebreakers of any sort during that span. She dropped third-set tiebreakers in the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship rounds of the dual-team playoffs last year.
“This was the first tiebreaker I’ve won in a while, and I’m glad I got it in because it’s good practice,” Johnson said. “Last year I lost my singles match in a tiebreaker at states, so I was glad to get that practice in.
“First set I was fine, but the second set I kind of mentally fell apart a little bit. Tiebreaker, I just tried to focus in on playing my game again and not letting her control the pace.”
The news wasn’t all good for Salisbury.
The Hornets, who have reached three consecutive state finals in Burlington, will play a true postseason road match for the first time since 2003 when they visit Southwestern Conference champion Shelby (11-2) next Tuesday.
The Lions won 5-1 against CCC runner-up Ledford in the first round, and Shelby’s league has seeding priority over Salisbury’s. Another road match is a possibility if the Hornets advance to the state semifinals because two teams still alive in the top half of the Western bracket ó Western Athletic champion Brevard and Western Highlands champ Mountain Heritage ó also have seeding priority over Salisbury.
“Everyone else has to travel, so we should as well,” Myers said. “That doesn’t make a difference for us.”
The only other competitive singles match Tuesday involved Lebowitz and Cloer, who entered with a 13-0 record. Lebowitz trailed 2-1 in each set but won 6-3, 6-2.
Sixth-seeded Erika Nelson (6-0, 6-1 against Chandler Coleman), fifth-seeded Joy Loeblein (6-0, 6-0 against Elizabeth Huntley), fourth-seeded Shea Comadoll (6-0, 6-1 against Breanna Fuentes) and second-seeded Kirstin Meyerhoeffer (6-1, 6-2 against Kaylin Waldrop) staked Salisbury to a quick lead.
Nelson needed only 30 minutes to complete her match, and Loeblein exited the adjacent court 15 minutes later. As freshmen, they have excelled at the bottom of Salisbury’s singles order and gone a combined 38-2.
“This has made us closer, and we’ve known each other since kindergarten,” Loeblein said. “There’s a big competition between us to see who can get done first, but she usually gets it.”
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