High school tennis: Breezy win for Cougars

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, September 5, 2019

By Mike London


CHINA GROVE — Carson veterans Lindsey Conrad, Maci Cooper and Jadyn Kirkpatrick steadily smacked winners, but the girl people were talking about was headed up the coast of the Carolinas.

“Dorian,” Cooper said. “We had to fight the wind today on a lot of shots. We had to keep the breeze out of our heads and stay focused.”

Carson (6-0, 2-0) stayed undefeated as well as focused on Thursday, blowing out another opponent. A 9-0 sweep against North Piedmont Conference opponent East Rowan ended shortly after 6 p.m.

It was the expected result. Carson’s strong team is built around Cooper, a senior, and a deep junior class.  East is in a rebuilding mode and has freshman Audrey Ward, who is going to be really good down the road, playing No. 1 singles.

“Audrey has some power and she also has tricks in her bag, but Carson is just a lot stronger than we are right now,” East coach Jon Heidrick said. “We’ve got good girls who listen and are easy to talk to, and we’ll keep getting better. But there are going to be some growing pains.”

Carson has been good the past three seasons —  13-2, North Piedmont Conference champions and 3A first-round winners in 2017; then 10-3 with a runner-up finish behind WestRowan in the NPC in 2018. The Cougars won their last eight regular-season matches a year ago, avenging early losses to West Rowan and South Iredell.

“And we didn’t lose much from last year,” said junior Jadyn Kirkpatrick, who played No. 3 singles on Thursday and teams with Cooper on a No. 1 doubles team that is the reigning conference and county champion. “We’re a very solid team, with three girls battling for No. 1. My goals for the season are for us to come together, to have fun and to win championships.”

Carson coach Kayela Galloway has the same goals.

“We finished up strong last year and we beat some good teams early this season (Mooresville and Cox Mill), so we’re excited,” Galloway said. “We’re fortunate to have girls at 1-2-3 (Conrad, Cooper, Kirkpatrick) that are so equal. They all can beat each other on a given day. They’re just super-athletic, talented kids. And on top of that, they’re extremely competitive. They hate to lose.”

Cooper competes in a lot of sports for Carson (6-2, 2-0). She’s a key player in basketball and softball and is helpful in the jumps and sprints when she makes it to the big track and field meets.

“With basketball and softball I don’t get to work on tennis at all in the off-season,” Cooper said. “I just show up the first day of practice and try to work my way up.”

Cooper may end up playing 1,2 or 3 for the Cougars. She’ll be successful most of the time at whatever seed she plays.

While Carson is very close at 1-2-3, Galloway said there’s also not a huge difference in 4 through 9. Two girls who were outside the top six last year — junior Keeley Watson (No. 4) and sophomore Riley Isley (No. 6) — have forced their way into the starting lineup after putting in a lot of hours on their games since last season. They’ve been rolling in singles as well as No. 3 doubles.

“We’ll have a lot of challenge matches over the next two weeks,” Galloway said. “Nothing is set in stone.”

It’s a good problem to have.

Carleigh Perry, the basketball standout who suffered her second ACL injury last winter, is already back on the tennis court for Carson. She plays No. 5 singles and teams with Conrad at No. 2 doubles. Perry’s knee surgery was on Feb. 14. She was cleared by doctors on Aug. 14, just in time for tennis season.

She’s not 100 percent yet, but she’s getting closer. The important thing was she was laughing and smiling and happy to be back competing.

At No. 1 singles, Conrad won 6-0, 6-3 against Ward, who started gaining confidence and put up a fight in the second set.

“For a freshman, she’s really good,” Conrad said.

Cooper had early struggles but took charge of her No. 2 singles match against East senior Sarah Margaret Dyer and won 6-3, 6-0.

Kirkpatrick didn’t lose a game at No. 3 singles against fellow junior Syann Cooper.

At No. 4, Watson won 6-1, 6-0 against sophomore Jaysa Causby, the daughter of Jason Causby, North Rowan’s head boys basketball coach.

Perry took a 6-1, 6-2 victory over East sophomore Rebecca Reilly at No. 5, while Isley won 6-0, 6-0 against East senior Caroline Burleyson at No. 6.

The Maci Cooper/Kirkpatrick doubles team won 8-1 against Ward/Dyer. Conrad/Perry won 8-0 against Syann Cooper/Causby.

No. 3 offered the most competitive doubles match, but Watson/Isley prevailed 8-3 against Reilly/Burleson to send everyone home.

The serious challenges to Carson in the NPC figure to come from West, which graduated Payton Holt but has the rest of its top seven back, and South Iredell, which has freshman Karley Crain as its new No. 1 player. South Iredell won three tight matches and beat West 7-2 on Thursday.

“The matches with West Rowan and South Iredell are always the toughest,” Conrad said. “But we’ve got a very solid team, and we’ll be good again next year, too.”


NOTES: East  got its first win of the season on Tuesday when it beat West Stanly. … Carson was supposed to open against Concord, the program that knocked the Cougars out of the playoffs in 2017, but weather prevented that match from being played.