2A tennis: Salisbury 7, Shelby 1
By Bret Strelow
Salisbury’s players didn’t have much time to digest the news.
They didn’t need much to prove capable of dealing with the adversity.
Missing third-seeded Erika Nelson, who came down with a migraine headache at school, the Hornets advanced to the 2A dual-team tennis semifinals with a 7-1 win against previously unbeaten Shelby on Tuesday afternoon.
The absence forced Katelyn Storey, Anna Page and Sierra Davis to each slide up one spot in the lineup. Mary Margaret Mills stepped in at No. 6 singles and won 6-2, 6-1 against Meredith Burton.
“I found out at about 2 o’clock that Erika would not be able to play,” Salisbury coach Chris Myers said. “Mary Margaret found out at 3 o’clock, probably as Shelby was pulling up.
“After probably the initial shock, she buckled down, went out there and did a fabulous job. She very much helped to make sure doubles was just a formality.”
Salisbury (21-0) won the first five completed singles matches against the Golden Lions (13-1), and Shelby’s Jenna Washburn pulled out a 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 decision against Davis at No. 5.
Hannah Lebowitz-Page and Joy Loeblein-Storey posted decisive doubles victories for the Hornets, who will play host to Maiden (20-1) in a state semifinal match Thursday. The winner will face either Greene Central (21-6) or Carrboro (12-7) for the title Saturday in Burlington.
Mills, a junior, improved to 8-0 this season. She played as highly as No. 2 in the lineup against Thomasville on Oct. 5 and has twice occupied the third spot for a team that could afford to sit normal starters against inferior foes.
“I was really disappointed for Erika that she wasn’t going to be able to play but really excited to be able to take part in playing,” Mills said. “I was really nervous, but everybody was really nice in telling me I could do it and made me believe in it. Once I got out there, I didn’t have much problem worrying any more.”
Lebowitz cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 victory against Hillary Lutz three days after they squared off in the 2A singles semifinals. Lebowitz won that match 6-1, 6-1 and beat West Lincoln’s Laura Baker for the state title.
Storey, a freshman facing perhaps the biggest adjustment by having to move up to No. 3, was actually the first Salisbury player off the courts. She earned a 6-2, 6-0 win against Allison Stitt.
“Just getting used to it, it’s no different than any other match,” said Storey, who reached the 2A doubles semifinals with Nelson. “Not trying to think about playing three instead of four, just playing.
“I play USTA tournaments and we play each other on the team, which helps us prepare for the last few weeks of the season when you do have a lot of competition.”
Page exited the courts after Lebowitz with a 6-1, 6-0 victory against Victoria Beam, and Mills closed out her match with Burton. Loeblein’s 6-2, 6-1 win against Emily Bridges clinched the team victory for Salisbury.
The Hornets traveled to Shelby during their run to the 2008 championship, and they can reach this year’s final without leaving home. Salisbury is one step away following a dominant effort from a lineup that included a late fill-in.
“The past couple of years it’s been really cool to see the team win state,” Mills said, “but to actually contribute to going farther into states means a lot.”
NOTES: Maiden won 5-1 against Brevard, which faced Salisbury in last year’s semifinals. The Blue Devils’ doubles team of Abbey Black-Kaylyn Key reached the 2A quarterfinals before falling in straight sets to Greene Central’s Lauren Carraway-Elizabeth McLawhorn.
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