CARY — Last year Panther Creek boasted a talented girls’ tennis team. Now they have depth to go with the skill.
The Catamounts overcame injuries to their top two singles players to rout their strongest competitor in the SWAC with an 8-1 victory against Green Hope Wednesday afternoon at the Cary Tennis Center.
“Obviously, we don’t like to have to make adjustments with the injuries,” Panther Creek coach Nathaniel Blalock said. “But we played very well.”
A year ago Panther Creek snapped Green Hope’s stranglehold on the old Tri-9 Conference, ending the Falcons’ 82 straight wins in conference play and then beating them a second time to clinch the title.
Now the Catamounts (8-0, 6-0 SWAC) have taken a major step toward adding the first SWAC title – a reconfiguration of the old Tri-9 – to their trophy case. They’ll meet Green Hope (7-2, 6-1 SWAC) in the second round on Oct. 2 at the Cary Tennis Center.
Panther Creek’s adjustments to the lineup were at No. 1 singles. Senior Megan Smith withdrew after she aggravated a existing blister on her hand in a No. 2 doubles match that she and sophomore Orla Labiche won 8-1.
The Catamounts’ 3-0 lead after doubles made it easier for Smith to sit out the match. Sammie Smith, Megan’s sophomore sister, and sophomore Jordan Strickland won No. 1 doubles 8-2, and freshman Aishani Tingare and sophomore Loren Kim won No. 3 doubles 8-5.
“Megan wants to be out there as much as anybody,” Blalock said of substituting her.
Sammi Smith moved up from No. 2 singles to No. 1. She won the first set 6-2 before she retired during the second set with an ankle injury. Green Hope sophomore Karena Zhang was leading 3-0 when Smith was injured to account for the Falcons’ only point.
Smith’s retirement was soon a moot point since Panther Creek only needed to win two of the six singles matches to clinch the team victory. As Smith was examined by a school athletic trainer, the other scores started filling the scorebook:
At No. 2 singles, Strickland won, 6-1, 6-2; No. 3, Labiche, 7-5, 6-2; No. 4, Tingare, 6-3, 6-1; No. 5, Kim, 6-3, 6-3; and No. 6, senior Katie Ryan, 6-3, 6-2.
As seniors, Megan Smith and Ryan are enjoying the ride the younger players provided to last year’s conference title and run at repeating this year. In the North Carolina junior tennis 16s rankings, Sammie Smith is No. 2, Strickland No. 8, Labiche No. 11, Kim No. 54 and Tingare No. 72.
“I’m glad the younger players are helping us,” Ryan said. “It’s even more fun this year if we win another title.”