Prep tennis: East Rowan 5, Statesville 4
By Bret Strelow
GRANITE QUARRY ó Brett Kesler rushed over to hug doubles partner Katie Cassady once they had secured the decisive victory.
Kesler and Cassady admit they don’t always get along that well on a tennis court.
East Rowan’s 5-4 victory against visiting Statesville on Thursday means the two teams will likely share the NPC’s regular-season title.
East (10-2, 8-1 NPC) held a 4-2 edge after singles, and it was trailing the Greyhounds (7-1 NPC) on the first two doubles courts as Cassady and Kesler extended their lead in an 8-4 victory against the third-seeded tandem of Addie McElwee-Jayden Frank.
“Brett and I have tried very hard to work on our formations, and we know exactly what the other one is going to do,” Cassady said. “We’ll boss the other one around if they’re not doing the right thing. We tell each other it’s not personal, and we don’t really mean everything we say to each other.”
Ali Boggs-Laurie Claire Davidson kept the Greyhounds alive with an 8-2 win at No. 1 against East’s Brittany Honeycutt-Devan Corpening, but Cassady and Kesler had seized control of their eight-game pro set by that point.
Cassady-Kesler pulled out a 9-8 (10-7) victory at No. 3 doubles in the first meeting with Statesville, which won 6-3 as a team.
With a loss at Salisbury as the only blemish on their record, Cassady and Kesler felt pressure to come through. They improved to 9-1 on Thursday.
“Our last Statesville match we went to (a tiebreaker), and I was scared the same thing was going to happen,” Kesler said. “We pulled it out. I was getting nervous at first, but we finally figured out how they play and kept our heads together.”
The No. 2 doubles match ended in virtual darkness, and Statesville’s Azul Zapata-Claire Balatow prevailed 9-8 (10-3) against Megan Bullins-Kayela Wilson.
Bullins and Corpening played critical roles in singles. By winning third-set tiebreakers, they gave East some margin for error as it attempted to avenge the setback from late August.
“I knew if they wanted it bad enough they could get it,” East coach Laurie Wyrick said. “They did; they wanted it bad enough. That’s all they kept talking about, that this was the big one.”
Statesville’s singles victories came from Boggs (6-1, 6-0 over Honeycutt at No. 1) and Balatow (7-5, 6-0 over Wilson at No. 4).
Cassady cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 win over McElwee at No. 5, and East’s Hannah Pressley was a 6-4, 6-3 winner against Frank at No. 6.
The other two matches were extremely tight. Bullins ó facing Davidson at No. 3 ó took the first set 6-3, lost the second one 6-1 and won the tiebreaker 10-5.
Corpening dropped the first set against the second-seeded Zapata by a 6-1 score, won the second set 6-2 and claimed the tiebreaker by a 10-3 count.
“It hurt losing the first one,” Corpening said. “I knew I had to win to keep us in the game, so I just worked hard and had heart, just tried to stay in.”
Neither Statesville nor East have been pushed by any of the other five NPC squads. The Mustangs close their conference schedule with matches against West Rowan, North Iredell and South Rowan.
East went unbeaten in NPC play two years ago and settled for second place behind former league member Lake Norman last year.
“We wanted this so bad,” Corpening said. “We’ve been practicing so hard, and we knew we had to beat them even if we have to share it. We lost last year and came in second, and I was tired of second place. It feels good, and I’m really happy.”