An Athens Drive-Middle Creek girls team tennis match that began with afternoon sunlight finished under artificial lights.
Athens Drive didn’t pull out a 5-4 victory in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference until senior Elena Price clinched her 1 hour, 50-minute No. 4 singles match that went to a tiebreaker Wednesday at Pullen Park.
“I felt the pressure, and I’ve never been in that situation before,” Price said. “This is my first year in the top six on varsity. I worked with a coach and did clinics. I’m so proud to make the top six my senior year and win for the team.”
Price won the tiebreaker 10-4 for a 2-6, 7-6 victory over junior Julia Tersey. She trailed in the second set 3-4 before rallying. As she left the court, she was greeted by a wall of teammates offering hugs.
“Elena, I’m buying you a smoothie,” one of them called out.
With the win, second-year coach Lisa Smedley’s Jaguars improved to 2-0 overall and in SWAC play. With Panther Creek the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A team defending state champion and Green Hope a traditional power, Athens Drive and Middle Creek were essentially playing for a chance at third place in the SWAC.
For Middle Creek, it was the Mustangs’ opener. Their Monday match against Panther Creek was rained out.
Athens Drive took a 2-1 lead in doubles to set the stage for only needing a split out of singles. With Middle Creek sophomore Jenna Stachowiak a dominant player at No. 1 singles, the 2-1 doubles lead was crucial. Price also contributed a doubles team point at No. 3 when she and senior Allison Wolfe teamed up for an 8-6 victory.
They said it
Stachowiak commented on the Mustangs playing without Rhonda Blanchard, the school’s long-time boys and girls tennis coach that passed away shortly before the start of the boys spring season. Jeremy Cunningham took over the boys and Mary Ewanich, a Middle Creek teacher, is coaching the girls this fall.
“(Blanchard) was a big part of our team and school, and it will never be the same without her,” Stachowiak said. “But coach Ewanich has stepped up. She’s very encouraging and pushes us a lot.”
Four who mattered
Jenna Stachowiak and Kelly Bradford, Middle Creek: Stachowiak recorded two team points with a 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles and combined with senior Kelly Bradford to win No. 1 doubles 8-2. Bradford also won at No. 2 singles, 6-2, 6-4.
Lucy Burnhams and Irena Brain, Athens Drive: Burnhams and Brain both scored team points at singles and combined at No. 2 doubles for another team point with an 8-1 victory. Burnhams, a senior, won No. 3 singles 6-1, 6-3. Brain, sophomore, won No. 5 singles 6-4, 6-4.
The crucial two points in doubles came from the bottom four singles players that were mixed and matched in 3-5 and 4-6 combinations.
“They play together better,” Smedley said.