Prep Tennis: Salisbury wins fourth straight state title
By Ryan Bisesi
BURLINGTON — Four straight state titles.
A feat that sounds so towering that few teams throughout classifications can grasp its gravity.
For Salisbury’s girls tennis team, it’s been as nonchalant as can be on it’s run to No. 4, until Erika Nelson’s singles victory sealed a 5-1 win against Hillsborough Cedar Ridge and the school’s fifth state 2A crown in six years Saturday afternoon at the Burlington Tennis Complex.
What is there left to say about Salisbury’s dominance?
“It feels great whether it’s year number one or year number five,” Salisbury coach Chris Myers said. “You’ve got different girls each year and it’s great for all the girls to experience that.”
Erika Nelson felt it for the fourth and final time as she had the title-clinching win for the second year in a row. As a senior, Nelson won her final match in the most competitive bout of the day, a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Emma Newburg that gave her the 2A MVP. The Hornets won the match in singles play, only dropping the No. 1 match. Needless to say, Salisbury’s depth led it to the championship match and was the reason for another title.
“There’s so many players on this team who deserve MVP,” Nelson said. “Really, we’re all MVP’s.”
Second-seeded Katelyn Storey defeated Hannah Martin 6-1, 6-3. Storey, who juggled cross country duties with tennis, was the state individual runner up for the second-straight year.
“My goal was to go out and play like I did in the state finals,” Storey said. “I got on a roll pretty early and was taking it deep.”
Nelson, who had an hour and a half-long bout, finally finished off Newburg, who was 24-4 in singles play coming into the match.
The match, scheduled for 1 p.m., didn’t start until after 2 with the 4A and 3A matches going long.
At No. 4, Madeline Hoskins won her second championship of the week after taking part in the 2A golf title on Monday and Tuesday. Hoskins topped Delaney King 6-4, 6-2.
“I was really nervous before we all got out here,” Hoskins said. “Once everyone started getting in the swing of things, I loosened up.”
The Hornets padded their schedule with stout foes such as Asheville, Brevard and Charlotte Catholic, the 3A runner up. Salisbury (20-1) only lost one senior from last year’s team, but will lose Loeblein and Nelson, who played their last match. All six Hornets that played Saturday reached the individual state championships.
“We played some very competitive matches on almost every court,” Cedar Ridge coach Eric Rodgman said. “They’re just a little too strong for us.”
Senior Loeblein was the lone Hornet to have conflicting emotions, falling in a 6-1, 6-1 decision to Anna Kankanala. However, a long-standing promise was fulfilled.
“It’s definitely a bummer that I lost,” Loeblein said. “But freshman year, our goal was to win four state titles.”
Their four titles could only be topped by Myers, who won his fifth as a coach.
“This year, it feels like we’ve had to work a lot harder than the past two years,” Myers said. “That’s taking nothing away from the teams we played the past couple years. We were able to get by Shelby and that got us ready for today.”
Loeblein and Nelson faced Kankanala in the state individual doubles final and prevailed, but the transfer from Utah, who joined the team mid-season, was sound in the Red Wolves’ only win.
“She gets it back and angles shots,” Loeblein said. “She’s a great player.”
Fifth-seeded Sallie Kate Meyerhoeffer beat Megan Mauriello 6-3, 6-1, leading the whole way. In her first year getting consistent playing time, Meyerhoeffer qualified in doubles play with Alexandra Drye for state individuals.
“I feel like I’ve earned this one more,” Meyerhoeffer said. “I’m proud of my team and I’m sad this year’s over.”
Drye took the No. 6 set against Josie Newburg in a 6-0, 6-2 win. Drye is a sophomore who worked her way into the singles rotation this year.
“I just tried to keep the ball in play and let her make the error,” Drye said. “I was kind of nervous, but I just went in with the mindset of hoping we were going to win and we did.”
The Hornets defeated Shelby 5-2 Wednesday to win the west region and make the state final for the seventh-straight season.
Cedar Ridge made its first state-championship appearance and finished the year 21-3.
For Salisbury, Caroline Graham and Savannah Ware were solid in their matches during the year. Meredith Hovis and Jordan Pring provided depth.
“Depth wins championships,” Myers said. “You need six girls to do it and we’ve been fortunate enough to have that.”
Yep, they’re just that good.