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Surry beats Salisbury tennis in quarterfinals

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — So this is how and where the drama on the court ends for Salisbury’s over-achieving girls tennis team.

The 2017 state 2A champion Hornets officially abdicated the throne on Monday, when they were overpowered by visiting Surry Central, 5-1, in the state quarterfinals.

“We knew going into the season that we were young, we were new, we had 10 freshmen,” coach Milton Griffith said after Salisbury (20-2) put its distinguished season to bed. “We had a lot of work to do. Now we have a lot to look forward to.”

Griffith and the Hornets have poured the foundation for a promising future. Despite employing a lineup that included four freshman, a sophomore and senior Skye Mowery, they rolled to their 16th straight conference title. In post-season play, they outsted both Atkins and East Montgomery by 5-4 margins before falling in yesterday’s third round.

“My stomach just dropped,” Salisbury’s Meredith Burton said after suffering a 6-4, 1-6, (2-10) decision to Hannah Pardue at first singles. “It’s been a tough year. We lost a lot of seniors, then lost Emma (Nianouris), our No. 1 player. I filled in at first (singles), but sometimes I feel like I’ll never be as good a player as she is. Those are tough shoes to fill, but like Abby (Campion) said the other day, no excuses.”

Nianouris missed the last six weeks of the season, first with an illness and then a wrist injury. That forced each of Salisbury’s singles players to play up a slot, a difficult predicament that proved to be little more than a hiccup. Without her, the Hornets won their first seven October matches.

“I’d say we did pretty well,” said Campion, the apple-cheeked freshman who lost in a tie-breaker after splitting two sets with Mattie Grace Snow at third singles. “Not all of us play all year around like some girls do. But we gave it our all and played some really good matches.”

Surry Central (17-1) played one yesterday. The guests won their 16th straight and earned a berth in Wednesday’s semifinals.

“It feels amazing,” winning coach Holly Porter said. “With the seniors we have, we’re hoping to go all the way. But we knew that meant going through Salisbury.”

Surry Central’s lineup included six players who qualified for the regional tournament earlier this month and five who participated in last weekend’s state competition.

“Any time a team can qualify that many people, they have some depth,” Griffith said. “From one to six, they were darn good.”

Salisbury freshman Margaret Thurman was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Sarah Marion at second singles and Mowery — still bothered by a shoulder injury that has plagued her throughout the playoffs — lost 6-1, 1-6, (6-10) to Haily Robertson at No. 4 singles. It was her final prep match.

“That definitely went through my head, that this could be it,” she said. “But even so, I was glad to have experienced being on this team. We all played our best.”

Robertson recorded a number of unforced errors in the first set before storming back to win set No. 2 and the tie-breaker.

“That’s when my shoulder started to hurt,” Mowery explained. “She started making fewer errors and I started making more.”

Campion dropped a 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, (6-10) decision to Snow — and was graceful in defeat. “She was incredible,” she said. “Sharp shots, low to the alleys and made me run. She knew how to place the ball where I could maybe get to it, but she made it hard for me.”

Sutton Webb was bested 7-5, 6-1 by Surry Central’s Rachel Carter at sixth singles. The lone bright spot for Salisbury came at No. 5, where freshman Sophie Chmiel outplayed Mamie Smith, 6-4, 6-0.

“Every match meant a lot today,” said Chmiel, who finished with a 21-1 record. “You have to have the mindset that every match matters. Not just mine, but every one of them. We lost today, but since we have so many freshman, we’ll be even stronger next year.”

No one knows that better than Griffith.

“These girls fought all year long,” he said. “And much of that was through adversity because most of them were moved up (in the lineup) and out of position. That’s what I’m proudest of.  They rose to the occasion and that’s what counts. That’s what makes good tennis players. You won’t find any other team with four freshman, one sophomore and one senior that’s 20-2 like us.”

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