The late August sun beat down on the girls’ tennis squad from Southeast Raleigh, but not to the degree the team from Knightdale did.
“I need to work on some of my girls’ speed and running after the ball for the next match,” Bulldogs head coach Jazmin Highsmith said of her team’s scorching, 9-0 league loss to the Knights.
The exceedingly warm weather took its toll on the winners, as well.
“Some of my girls, I’d like to see a little more hustle out of them,” Knightdale coach Fatimah Cruz-Parker said. “It wouldn’t hurt. It’ll make the game a little more energetic and a lot more fun for both parties that are playing.”
Sweat was still beading on the face of Knights sophomore Diamond Oduok after her singles win on court No. 1. Oduok took out Southeast’s Danielle Browning, 6-0, 6-0.
“My serve was definitely working,” Oduok said. “Just hitting the ball where my opponent couldn’t get it.”
The sophomore did not play for the Knights last season, as she was competing in the United States Tennis Association.
“I think she has great potential and, if she keeps going at it, a pretty good future in tennis,” Cruz-Parker said of Oduok.
While Oduok was undeniably the star of the day, the Bulldogs had their own up-and-comer on court No. 5. Southeast’s Kiara McKenzie impressed her coach during her debut match.
“This was her first time playing for me,” Highsmith said. “She stood out to me. She’s holding her own. That’s awesome.”
Of all the Bulldogs, McKenzie came the closest to claiming victory. After dropping her first set with Knightdale’s Aliyah Tutton, 7-5, McKenzie rallied back to even the count with a 6-4 victory in the second set. Then, in the tie-breaker, Tutton emerged victorious by another 7-5 decision.
McKenzie’s match was the only close one, though. In addition to Oduok’s shutout, Kayla Larkins topped Kiara Mosley on court No. 2, Lexxus Johnson denied Talissa Brown on court No. 3 and Destiny Sledge beat Maha Syed on court No. 6 – all by a score of 6-0, 6-0.
Knightdale’s Ravon Scarborough struggled with her control at times, but had no real trouble pulling off a 6-2, 6-3 victory on court No. 4 against Southeast’s Madison Leoke.
Oduok and Johnson also teamed up to topple Browning and Brown, 8-0, in the top-seeded doubles match.
As dominant a performance as the Knights put forth, there’s still a lot of work to be done on their end.
“We definitely aren’t a completely experienced team,” Oduok said. “But we are a team that tries to help each other. We all have problems.”
Cruz-Parker, who was named head coach just before school began, expects to have two more girls join the Knightdale team. Once they are deemed eligible, the Knights won’t be so short-handed. They filled the courts on Wednesday without a substitute to spare.
For the Bulldogs, the message is simple. In one word, Highsmith summed up what her squad needs to work on most before playing another match.
“Speed,” she said.