Prep tennis: Individual state titles
By Mike London
Transporting three Salisbury tennis players after they’d survived a grueling series of matches on Friday, Salisbury coach Chris Myers looked over his shoulder and saw three weary heads resting silently on seat cushions.
“We’d grabbed a bite to eat, and by then they were looking totally exhausted,” Myers said. “Fatigue definitely got to be a factor on Friday, but when the girls woke up on Saturday, I could see the excitement and adrenaline just taking over. They couldn’t wait to get back on the court.”
On Saturday, playing on the indoor courts at N.C. State, Joy Loeblein, Erika Nelson and Katelyn Storey added to Salisbury’s glowing tennis tradition.
The doubles team of Loeblein-Nelson won the individual 2A state championship with a 7-5, 6-2 victory against Cedar Ridge’s Anna Kankanala-Hannah Marion. In singles, Katelyn Storey finished runner-up, losing to Cuthbertson’s Kalli Karas.
Salisbury has placed at least one doubles team in the state finals five of the last six seasons.
Loeblein-Nelson had a hard fight just to get to Saturday.
Myers said their 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 win in the semis against Shelby sisters Emily and Nancy Bridges, a senior-freshman combination that had been unbeaten, was one of the matches for the ages.
“Erika took a volley right on the nose, and our girls struggled for a while, but they just kept on fighting back,” he said. “That was just a fantastic win, and it definitely carried over to Saturday.”
Loeblein and Nelson overcame another great team in the final. Marion is a state-tournament veteran, while Kankanala is a phenom who transferred to the Hillsborough school from Utah.
“The girl from Utah had the best volley hands of any girl I’ve ever seen in high school,” Myers said. “But Erika and Joy played very composed tennis all day.”
Myers was thrilled for Loeblein. This was her third time in the doubles final.
As a freshman, she was paired with Shea Comadoll and was on the losing side against Salisbury teammates Hannah Lebowitz and Kirstin Meyerhoeffer in the championship match.
As a junior, Loeblein teamed with Nelson and lost to Cuthbertson’s Karas sisters, McKenna and Kalli, in a tough, three-set final.
“It was just really exciting to see Joy and Erika cap things off with a state championship,” Myers said. “They had quite a run.”
Storey also had an epic day Friday. She played a marathon first match with Hunter Hall, a tough opponent from Brevard, then weathered regional champions in the quarterfinals and semis.
“She had to play three really tough matches Friday, but she always kept that poker face,” Myers said. “Her opponents never know how she feels mentally or physically because she always looks the same, and that really helps her. She also one of the smartest players we’ve ever had here.”
As a sophomore last season, Storey lost in the 2A singles final to Shelby’s Hillary Lutz.
This time she faced Kalli Karas, half of last season’s doubles champions for the title.
It was a daunting task. Storey had lost recently to Karas 6-0, 6-1 in a regional final, but this time she played her much tougher. This time it was 6-3, 6-4.
“Katelyn played just an amazing match against a great opponent,” Myers said. “She’s reached that point now where she knows she can compete against the very best, and that’s going to be huge for us in the future.”
Loeblein, Nelson, Storey and Sallie Kate Meyerhoeffer and Alexandra Drye gave the Hornets five players on the All-State team. Meyerhoeffer and Drye reached the state semis as a doubles tandem.
Madeline Hoskins was also a state qualifier in singles.n The tennis season is far from over for the Hornets.
Seniors Loeblein and Nelson have been starters on three consecutive state dual team state champions, and the Hornets will resume their quest for their fourth straight with a third-round home match with wild card Bunker Hill on Monday.
They’ll be expected to make it through that one even without Hoskins, who will be competing in the state golf championships in Pinehurst. A major match at Shelby looms after that.