Mt. Broughton towered as an imposing end of the road in girls’ dual-team tennis for many years, but Panther Creek has scaled the height for the second straight season as the Catamounts seek to defend their state title.
Panther Creek beat Broughton 6-0 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A quarterfinals Monday.
A year ago, Broughton was the defending state champion with trips to the state finals 13 of 15 seasons before Panther Creek dethroned the Capitals with a 5-3 victory. Panther Creek’s Sammi Smith has been around long enough to appreciate the turnaround the past two seasons. She was a freshman when the Catamounts lost to Broughton in 2012.
“They were a powerhouse with so many talented girls,” Smith said.
Now she is leading Panther Creek’s dominant lineup at No. 1 singles. The Catamounts improved to 19-0 and haven’t had an opponent score more than two team points.
Smith believes Panther Creek’s rise is about more than talent. She cites teammates dedicated to honing their game on the U.S. Tennis Association junior circuit and who also enjoy the chance to represent their school. In turn, they’re feeling their school’s support.
“We’re lucky to have the lineup we have, but we also have a lot of school support,” Smith said. “You can see that by the number of people that are out here watching. That helps a lot – I know it helps me a lot.”
Smith and No. 2 singles Jordan Strickland, both juniors, won their singles matches 6-1, 6-0. Junior Orla Labiche and sophomore Savannah Gray also recorded 6-1, 6-0 wins at Nos. 3 and 6, respectively. Sophomore Amanda Cyr won 6-1, 6-1 at No. 4 and sophomore Aishani Tingare 6-0, 6-3 at No. 5.
Andy Fowler is in her first year coaching the Capitals, but she spent 25 years at Sanderson. She was coaxed out of retirement this year, and Broughton repeated as the Cap 8 4A champion.
“Things go in cycles,” Fowler said. “Panther Creek is a very strong team with a lot of girls who play USTA. We still have some girls who play USTA but not as many as in the past. But it was a good year for us, and this was a great group of girls. I enjoyed working with them.”