2A tennis final: Salisbury 5, Greene Central 0
By Bret Strelow
BURLINGTON ó Erika Nelson left her court to confer in private with Salisbury tennis coach Chris Myers prior to the start of her third-set tiebreaker.
She was in the middle of a strategy session when her jubilant teammates bounded away from their seats and charged Anna Page.
Nelson participated in the only singles match that went unfinished, but she played an important role in helping Salisbury win the 2A state championship Saturday.
An ailing Nelson’s effort inspired the unbeaten Hornets, who repeated as champs by posting a 5-0 victory against Greene Central. Page’s clinching win followed straight-set decisions by Hannah Lebowitz, Joy Loeblein, Katelyn Storey and Sierra Davis.
“Erika has the biggest heart when she’s on that tennis court,” Lebowitz said. “She hasn’t been feeling well, but for her to go out and play the match she did under the circumstances, it was incredible. I think it motivated everyone.”
A migraine headache forced Nelson to make a hospital visit Tuesday and miss Salisbury’s quarterfinal match. She didn’t play in a semifinal with Maiden on Thursday, and she left school early Friday.
Nelson filled her normal position as the team’s No. 3 singles player Saturday and split sets with Samantha Taylor.
“It was amazing for Erika to come out considering what she’s been through since Tuesday afternoon,” Myers said following the post-match celebration. “Mentally, this morning when she showed up smiling, it just did wonders to relax all the other girls.
“Regardless of what happened in Erika’s match, they were going to be in the spot they’ve been in throughout the year. It lightened the load on their minds. They were able to just relax and play. We saw that on all five courts today.”
Nelson, who finished her sophomore year with an unbeaten singles record, cruised to a 6-1 victory in the first set against Taylor and had two match points with a 5-4 lead in the second set. Taylor managed to hold serve, and she took the next two games for a 7-5 result.
“It was kind of scary knowing I was going into the state championship match not having played,” Nelson said.
“I was so nervous. I didn’t know what the outcome would be because I hadn’t even picked up a racket in four days.”
With Salisbury leading the dual-team score 4-0, Page’s match with fifth-seeded Abby Sugg was the only other action still in progress. Page closed out a 6-4, 4-6, (10-5) victory as Nelson prepared for her tiebreaker.
That match didn’t continue because the Hornets (23-0) had clinched the title, but Nelson didn’t leave Burlington without an individual accomplishment: She was named MVP.
“I was so surprised and didn’t expect it at all,” Nelson said. “It was a real good honor. I’m happy and can’t believe they chose me.”
The Hornets, making their fifth straight finals appearance, collected their third title in that span. They lost twice to Greene Central (2005, 2007) and beat Cardinal Gibbons the other two years.
Lebowitz, the lone senior in Salisbury’s top six, won 6-0, 6-1 against top-seeded Lauren Carraway and finished the season 30-1. She went 104-5 in her career, equaling former SHS star Susan Saunders’ four-year record, and recently added a 2A singles title to the doubles crown she won in 2008.
Lebowitz, just like she did a year earlier against Gibbons, completed her match before anyone else.
“I’ve been excited about this season since last season ended,” Lebowitz said. “It feels amazing, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending.”Storey, an unbeaten freshman seeded fourth, exited the courts next with a 6-2, 6-1 victory against Jessica Gray.
Davis, a first alternate in 2008 who played No. 6 this year as a junior, won 6-4, 6-2 over Abbey Dail.
The Hornets had lost on the No. 6 court each of the last two years in Burlington, and Davis welcomed the support offered by Salisbury superfan Reid Leonard.
“Even Mr. Leonard was telling me all year that at (Nos.) 5 and 6, that is where you can win the match,” Davis said. “I came out like, ‘All right, I can do it.’ ”
Loeblein, who played at No. 5 a year ago when she wrapped up the win against Gibbons, finished her sophomore season 26-3 thanks to a 6-2, 6-3 victory against second-seeded Elizabeth McLawhorn.
Loeblein turned 16 on Saturday, and she will attempt to obtain her driver’s license Monday.
“I sort of separated the day into the state championship, then afterwards I can celebrate my birthday,” Loeblein said. “I have to wait until Monday, but it’s fine. This will be enough of a present for me.”
The court Leonard occupied in 2008 was the site of another celebration Saturday.
Mary Margaret Mills led the way as Salisbury players sprinted toward Page, who was mobbed shortly after she shook hands with Sugg.
The Hornets capped an undefeated season with an improbable shutout of Greene Central (22-7) to claim their seventh title overall and sixth since the dual-team format was introduced in 1990.
“Our expectations were high and our goal was to win states, but today I think they exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Myers said. “To win this thing 5-0 is remarkable and is a testament to the program.”
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