As dynasties go, East Chapel Hill tennis is secure enough that it seems destined to win another PAC-6 title this fall in women’s tennis.
The Wildcats have won the 4A conference’s championship every year since they moved up from the 3A classification almost 10 year ago. In fact, they’ve lost only one conference match – ever.
So, it’s easy to misunderstand East Chapel Hill head coach Lindsey Linker when she says: “I think we’re going to surprise some people this year.”
No one will be shocked if East (9-1 overall, 3-0 PAC) continues to breeze through its conference schedule. But Linker isn’t talking about that. She’s talking about the N.C. High School Athletics Association’s post-season.
“It’s the same old, same old,” Linker said last week, watching her team shut out a usually good Ravenscroft (8-4) team. “We’ll have to get past the Raleigh schools. The trick is staying away from Panther Creek until the right time.”
Undefeated Panther Creek, ranked No. 1 among 4A teams in North Carolina, defeated East Chapel Hill in a scrimmage match heading into this fall’s regular season.
“They’ve got so many tournament-tested players, they’re more like a tennis academy than a high school team,” Linker said.
East Chapel Hill is No. 2 in the N.C. High School Tennis Coaches’ poll, while Raleigh-area teams Sanderson, Broughton and Green Hope are No. 3, 5 and 6, respectively. No. 4 Charlotte Catholic is the only 4A West Region school in the top 5.
Cardinal Gibbons, the only team to beat East Chapel Hill in the regular season, is No. 1 in the 3A ranks. The Crusaders’ Big Eight rival Chapel Hill is No. 5.
Gibbons caught East Chapel Hill on the last day of the Port City Invitational, on a wet, sticky, 95-degree afternoon in Wilmington, and defeated the Wildcats 7-1.
“They’re a solid, great team,” Linker said. “But we can do better than we did.
“I’m looking forward to our getting to play them again (Sept. 24 at East) down the road. We were exhausted in Wilmington. We’ll be fresher here.”
East has plenty of matches before then. The Wildcats play at Raleigh Wakefield on Monday, then host PAC-6 rivals Jordan on Tuesday and Riverside on Thursday.
“It’s three matches a week from here on out,” Linker noted.
East breezed through all three matches last week, defeating Roxboro Person 8-1, Ravenscroft 9-0 and Hillside 9-0. The lone loss against Person came at No. 2 doubles, where Linker had inserted some of her younger players to get them more court time.
Most of East’s top players have some USTA tournament experience, the sine qua non of winning teams in the N.C. high school championships. All of them have winning records and are a combined 39-5 in matches so far.
East sophomore Brooke Pritchard at No. 1 singles and senior Carolina Pope at No. 2 are both 8-2. Ninth-grader Victoria Jones, who’s played at No. 3, 4 and 5 at different times, is 9-1. Jocelyn Reckford is 7-1, while Cassidy Bright and Madison Lewis are both 7-0. Sophomore Iskra Joksimovic, who reached the 2013 state doubles championship finals along with then-senior Meghana Holegadde, is 5-4 between No. 3 and 4 singles.
“We may not have as many members of this team with heavy-duty tournament experience as we have in the past, but we’ve got plenty of really tough competitors,” Linker said.
Chapel Hill, Carrboro both ranked in top 5
Despite two losses last week to a pair of NCHSAA powerhouses – No. 1 Cardinal Gibbons and No. 3 Union Pines – No. 5 Chapel Hill remains upbeat about its 2014 fall campaign.
“So far we are ahead of where we were last season,” head coach Neil Alderman said. “I’ve had two freshman step up and really play well: Gabby Kmiec and Hailey Polsky. Both are playing high in the lineup and have winning records, although Gabby has a broken thumb that hopefully will heal by next week.”
Chapel Hill (5-2, 4-1 in Big Eight matches) hosts conference rivals Northwood (Monday) and Webb (Wednesday) before traveling to Carrboro on Thursday for a non-conference match.
“I do think we have a good chance at a strong overall record and hope to qualify for the states this year,” Alderman said.
Carrboro (7-1) is tied for No. 2 with Brevard in the coaches’ 2A poll. The Jaguars have won six straight since a 6-3 loss to Durham Academy and remain undefeated against NCHSAA opponents so far.
Carrboro hosts Reidsville (Monday) and Bartlett Yancey (Wednesday) before Thursday’s home match with Chapel Hill.