Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 3, 2013
BURLINGTON — Grace Steinman is nicknamed ‘Little G’ by her teammates, but there she was carrying the Saturday’s state 2A championship match on her shoulders. Salisbury had a cushy 4-1 lead, but a victory was needed at No. 6 for the efficient Hornets to win in singles.
Salisbury, defined by its depth throughout the season, got an MVP-performance from Steinman in a sensational comeback to prevent doubles play and give SHS its second state crown this week. The Hornets beat the N.C. School of Science and Math 5-1 but it wasn’t as methodical as SHS typically makes it.
The No. 6 singles player finalized the Hornets’ sixth-straight state 2A championship by winning her singles match after an 11-9 tiebreaker that saw her rally from a 9-5 deficit. NCSSM’s Rachel Xu won the second set 6-4 and jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker.
“I kept saying, ‘is she really doing this,’”Salisbury coach Scott Maddox said of watching the comeback.
Steinman did and because of her, Salisbury’s girls tennis team rushed the courts at Burlington Tennis Center like crazed fans at a rock concert.
“I was thinking I had nothing to lose,” Steinman said. “I was kind of embracing the moment.”
Steinman was given the MVP award for her efforts, a testament to the Hornets’ depth. All six of the Hornets’ starters made it to the state individual tournament either in singles or doubles play.
“That was phenomenal for her to do that,” Maddox said. “I told her the pressure’s on the other girl. If she wins, we go to doubles, if she wins, we’re state champions.”
Comebacks haven’t often been a theme for the Hornets in the title match. Last year’s took about 45 minutes to determine a winner. N.C. Science and Math, 17-0 entering the match, made Salisbury sweat. Lydia Yuan beat Alexandra Drye 6-4, 6-3 at No. 1.
It was the final prep match for Drye, Madeline Hoskins and Anna Flynn. Drye and Hoskins, who won the doubles title last weekend, accomplished their goal of four dual-team titles in four years.
“It couldn’t have happened to a more determined person,” Hoskins said. “I’m so glad she was able to pull it out. She deserves it.”
Kathryn Rusher topped Anna Xu 6-0, 7-5 after being down 5-3 in the second set. Rusher was also given the team’s sportsmanship award.
“I try to be the mediator,” Rusher said. “It means a lot that people notice it.”
Hoskins beat Rebecca Lin 2-6, 6-3, 10-4.
“I was definitely a little nervous since it was my last competitive match,” Hoskins said. “As I got warmed up and got used to her game, I started hitting through the ball.”
Play was delayed by an hour-and-a-half due to the courts being saturated from rain. After warming up from a bus ride that began at 6:45 a.m., Anna Flynn and Kayla Honeycutt were the first to finish. Flynn beat Jessie Huang at No. 3 6-2, 6-2. Honeycutt bested Gabrielle Beaudry 6-0, 6-3.
“The Science and Math girls adjusted really well and made us hit,” Maddox said. “They don’t try to hit winners, they just hit it back and try to get you to make a mistake.”
Kathleen Mowery, Ruth Clement and Madison Day provided depth during the year. The Hornets finished 18-3 and broke their own conference win streak of 125 CCC victories. Salisbury now has 86 playoff wins in 23 postseason appearances.
“These girls are what high school sports should be,” Maddox said. “It’s been a blessing this year to do this.”
Maddox won his first state championship a day after his nephew unexpectedly died of muscular dystrophy. He was 27.
“I really debated what I needed to do today,” Maddox said. “My wife said he would have wanted me to go today.”