2A tennis semifinals: Salisbury 5, Maiden 1
By Bret Strelow
The challengers change, but Salisbury’s girls tennis team emerging from the western half of the draw remains a constant.The Hornets earned their fifth consecutive trip to the 2A state final with a 5-1 victory against visiting Maiden on Thursday. They will face recent nemesis Greene Central (22-6) for the title Saturday at noon in Burlington.
Salisbury has beaten five different state semifinal foes ó Wilkes Central, West Henderson, Surry Central, Brevard and Maiden ó during a run that started in 2005.
“The tradition, the young girls see what the older girls have accomplished, and this is something everyone wants to do,” coach Chris Myers said. “It just speaks volumes for the young kids, speaks volumes for their work ethic in the offseason. To demonstrate that consistency and excellence over this extended period of time is exceptional.”
The Hornets (22-0) again played without third-seeded Erika Nelson, who missed a quarterfinal victory against Shelby on Tuesday because of a migraine headache and was held out of singles action Thursday as a precautionary measure.
She would have been available for doubles, but they weren’t necessary thanks to a match-clinching victory from fifth-seeded Sierra Davis. She bounced back from a loss against Shelby and won 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 over Erikia Ramseur.
“I went out there making sure I was going to do better than I did in the last match,” Davis said. “Try to get a strategy, make her move, stick with it, pull through and be consistent.”
The plan didn’t work well in the early going.
Hannah Lebowitz, Anna Page, Joy Loeblein and Katelyn Storey secured one-sided victories, and Salisbury had to wait nearly another hour to officially eliminate the Blue Devils (20-2).
Maiden’s Cinderella Yang wrapped up a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win against sixth-seeded Mary Margaret Mills at about the same time Davis finished off Ramseur.
Davis, who was unbeaten in singles prior to her 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 loss to Shelby’s Jenna Washburn, fell behind 5-2 in the first set against Ramseur.
“I was down, and I was getting into that groove I was in during my earlier match,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘No, I can’t do this again. I can’t have that same result.’
“I switched it up; definitely a better attitude. Last match I was really down on myself, getting really frustrated, in my own head. Today I just had to keep it positive.”
Davis claimed the tiebreaker with minimal trouble and jumped ahead 4-1 in the second set. Attempting to serve out the match at 5-2, the game went to love-40 before she won three consecutive points. She saved another break point at ad-out and capitalized on her first match point.
Loeblein greeted Davis, her doubles partner, with an enthusiastic high-five as she exited her court.
“It couldn’t have ended any better, especially considering what had happened the other night,” Myers said. “At some point at 5-2 it was evident the Sierra Davis we’ve known all year showed up.
“The big thing was she relaxed. She went out there and executed and shook it off when she’d make a mistake. Everybody out here is going to make some mistakes.”
Lebowitz didn’t make many in her 6-0, 6-1 win against top-seeded Abbey Black, and Page was sharp in a 6-0, 6-0 victory against fourth-seeded Nicky Lo. Loeblein won 6-1, 6-3 over second-seeded Kaylyn Key, and Storey prevailed 6-0, 6-3 against third-seeded Megan Moose.
Maiden, which had never qualified for the dual-team playoffs before this season, arrived in Salisbury with an 18-match winning streak.
“Hats off to Maiden,” Myers said. “All year long I’ve been reading about how they’ve been winning matches, and they didn’t have a whole lot of girls up at states, but you could see from today that there’s a lot of depth. Their girls had all kinds of fight, and they just kept making our girls hit one more ball. They’ve done a great job over there.”
The Hornets are attempting to repeat as state champions for the first time during their current stretch of success. They topped Cardinal Gibbons for the 2A title in 2006 and 2008.
Greene Central, which advanced to the final with a 9-0 shutout of Carrboro, defeated Salisbury in 2005 and 2007.
“We’ve worked really hard this year,” Loeblein said. “We’ve worked all year for it, all summer. Everyone on our team really tried hard to get to the point where we are, and it paid off.”