Prep Tennis Playoffs: Salisbury 9, Shelby 0
By Bret Strelow
SHELBY ó Salisbury tennis coach Chris Myers boarded the team bus to sounds of energetic chatter following the Hornets’ 9-0 playoff victory Tuesday.
The 90-minute drive to Shelby offered a stark contrast in scenery.
Myers peered into the rear-view mirror and saw players sleeping amid relative silence. He entrusted one drink cooler to Mally Fisher once the Hornets completed their trip, but ice spilled out of the plastic container as it took a wild ride down the steep hill that separates the parking lot from four fenced-in courts.
“What kind of omen is that?” Myers asked with a laugh. “The whole cooler goes rolling down the hill. I was a little worried when I saw that.
“Certainly the girls righted themselves. Maybe laughing at Mally loosened everybody up. I know there were a lot of yawns and stiff muscles getting off the bus.”
Seeding priority in the 2A dual-team bracket forced the Hornets (20-1) to play a postseason road match for the first time since 2003, and they blanked the Southwestern Conference champions in a second-round affair one day after five Salisbury players competed in the Midwest Regional.
Hannah Lebowitz, Erika Nelson, Shea Comadoll and Joy Loeblein posted decisive singles victories against the Golden Lions (11-3). Third-seeded Brooke Johnson’s 6-3, 6-3 win against Blair Lutz officially eliminated Shelby, and second-seeded Kirstin Meyerhoeffer edged Emily Bridges by a 4-6, 6-2, (10-5) score.
Salisbury, which will play host to Rocky River champ Forest Hills (12-1) in the state quarterfinals next Tuesday, won a road playoff match for the first time since beating Western Alamance in 2002.
“Any sort of thing that can put them in an uncomfortable position and they’re able to play through it, I think it does nothing but benefit the entire team,” Myers said.
Shelby’s top six featured four freshmen, and the final five players in the Lions’ lineup dropped a combined 13 games in a 5-1 playoff victory against CCC runner-up Ledford last week. The same spots in Salisbury’s order lost 10 games in the first meeting with Ledford and seven in the next one.
Lebowitz won 6-0, 6-0 against top-seeded Hillary Lutz, and Nelson exited next with a 6-1, 6-2 victory against sixth-seeded Jenna Washburn. Comadoll prevailed 6-1, 6-0 against fourth-seeded Mary Catherine Beam, and Loeblein won by the same score against fifth-seeded Allison Stitt.
Johnson ended a brief losing streak against tough competition and improved her record as a top-six regular to 37-10.
“This was probably the best she has played from start to finish in the last two years,” Myers said.
Johnson won two matches Saturday to qualify for the state singles championships, then lost to West Lincoln’s Laura Baker in a regional semifinal.
Ledford’s Tiffany Vanhpraseuth beat Johnson in the third-place match Monday.
“I think playing Tiffany definitely helped me out to get me warmed up and to get me used to hitting against people who like to hit deep with a lot of pace,” Johnson said. “I think the regionals were great preparation.”
Meyerhoeffer fell behind 3-0 in the first set before pulling even at 4-all with Bridges, who won the next two games.
Meyerhoeffer rolled in the second set and established a 3-0 lead in the third-set tiebreaker. Bridges closed to within 4-3, and Meyerhoeffer regained control by claiming four consecutive points.
“I just kept remembering to stay calm and not get nervous,” Meyerhoeffer said. “I knew it was important. I knew I needed to pull through and knew I could pull through if I really tried.”
NOTES: Lebowitz-Meyerhoeffer, Comadoll-Loeblein and Johnson-Nelson won eight-game pro sets in doubles. … Forest Hills advanced with a 5-4 victory against East Lincoln. … Results are in Scoreboard.