Prep Tennis: An ending to savor for Salisbury’s seniors
By Bret Strelow
BURLINGTON ó Salisbury followed a similar formula, but the second title evoked different emotions.
The Hornets, making their fourth straight appearance in the 2A dual-team tennis final, won 5-1 against Cardinal Gibbons on Saturday.
Their run of Western dominance began in 2005, when they beat Wilkes Central in a state semifinal before falling to Greene Central. Three seniors helped Salisbury defeat Gibbons for the championship a year later.
Greene Central edged the Hornets by a 5-4 score in the 2007 final, and three seniors were again instrumental as Salisbury made amends against Gibbons.
“Last year hurt a lot more than the first one did because we were so close,” coach Chris Myers said. “The pain of losing is far greater than the joy of winning, and I didn’t want to feel like we did last year.
“Today, as opposed to two years ago, maybe we can savor it a little bit more. Two years ago I think we were almost shocked we won it. This one seemed a little bit more calculated, and we had to work harder at times throughout the year.”
Salisbury’s roster included six four-year players, including two-year starters Kirstin Meyerhoeffer, Brooke Johnson and Shea Comadoll. Sun Dragas, Sarah Truemper and Dzenita Sukurica also contributed by going unbeaten in 40 combined appearances during their careers.
The senior class is Salisbury’s second to take part in four dual-team finals. The Hornets lost to Roanoke Rapids in the 1993 title match at the 1A/2A level and responded with a three-peat.
“The first few years all six were behind some very good girls,” Myers said. “They were all patient, bided their time and took advantage of the opportunities given to them over the years. All six were consummate role models and great leaders regardless of how much they played.”
Meyerhoeffer, Johnson, Comadoll, Dragas, Truemper and Sukurica helped the Hornets compile an 88-5 record over four years. They went 23-1 this season.
Salisbury, which suffered a 5-4 loss to Charlotte Catholic in August, pitched 17 shutouts and won 188 of 198 matches in its victories within the dual-team format.
“I’m so excited and so proud of our team,” Meyerhoeffer said. “It felt a little unreal.
“I got a little emotional, especially because it’s senior year and the end of the season. I don’t know what I’m going to do without tennis.”
Meyerhoeffer improved her two-year singles record to 45-7 with a 6-4, 0-6, (11-9) win against second-seeded Casey Perriccio on Saturday, and Johnson pushed her two-year mark to 39-12 with a 6-3, 7-5 decision against third-seeded Ally Tucker. Comadoll, who went 40-2 as an upperclassman, won 6-0, 6-1 against fourth-seeded Meredith Masteller.
The only loss during a 20-1 senior campaign for Comadoll came via a third-set tiebreaker against Catholic. She took 240 of 266 games in her victories and didn’t drop more than two games in any of those 40 sets.
“It was great to see all of them play so well in their matches,” said junior Hannah Lebowitz, the team’s top seed. “They worked really hard for this moment, and it showed in all their matches.”
Lebowitz, who teamed with Meyerhoeffer to win the 2A doubles title, capped her memorable season with a 6-0, 6-3 victory against 2A singles champion Lauren Brooker.
Lebowitz went 19-1 as a junior, losing only to Ragsdale’s Catherine Wood, and claimed 228 of 256 games in her victories. She improved her career record to 73-4 by earning a signature win against Brooker.
“I knew she was a good player, and I didn’t want her shots to really get to me ó I knew she was going to hit some good shots,” Lebowitz said. “I just tried to keep the ball in play and move my feet as much as I could.”
The two freshmen in Salisbury’s top six had successful debuts at the bottom of the order.
Sixth-seeded Erika Nelson led the team with 26 victories. Fifth-seeded Joy Loeblein, who joined Comadoll on a doubles team that reached the 2A final before losing to Lebowitz-Meyerhoeffer, went 20-1 in singles.
Loeblein took 240 of 257 games (a team-high 93 percent) in her individual wins and closed Salisbury’s landmark season with a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Gibbons’ Rachael Lynch-Daniels. Team members scurried onto the court to mob Loeblein and celebrate the championship-clinching result.
“There was a lot of pressure, but it felt good to have everyone supporting you,” Loeblein said. “I heard Erika’s dad say, ‘One more,’ and it pumped me up.
“Having Erika out here has been awesome. Being able to play right beside each other, we could support each other through the matches.”