The Apex girls tennis team is trying to get to the level of state powerhouses Panther Creek and Green Hope. Holly Springs is simply trying to get where Apex is.
The two teams met Wednesday afternoon in a Southwest Wake Athletic Conference match, and the Cougars understandably dominated, winning 9-0, despite missing head coach Lynn Thomas. Apex hasn’t missed a beat while assistant Ryan Phelps, the Cougars’ former coach, has filled in as Thomas has been in California helping her daughter start her first year of college.
Apex (2-0, 2-0) is gunning for its second consecutive state playoff appearance after getting a wild-card last year.
“Panther Creek and Green Hope are always a huge challenge,” senior Melissa Romano said, who won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles and 8-1 at No. 1 doubles with Elizabeth Johnson. “We have a hard time getting the second spot in the conference, but hopefully we can get enough wins to make it in to the tournament.”
Steven Herrick, the Golden Hawks’ coach, is trying to rebuild a program and started two freshmen and a sophomore at singles.
“These kids have great intentions and a great spirit,” said Herrick, whose team is 0-3, 0-2. “I really believe that as we approach the second half of the season that we’ll start taking some more wins with us and we will do a better job this season.”
They said it
“We’re undefeated,” Romano said.
Three who mattered
Melissa Romano, Apex: Perhaps the biggest challenge for the senior captain on Wednesday was keeping her long, blonde hair in a bun and away from her face. “I mostly tried to get my serve in and keep the ball in,” Romano said. “It was a little easier to get an error from her, rather than be too aggressive.”
Elizabeth Johnson, Apex: The junior dispatched Caroline Brammer in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0, and is a solid compliment to Romano at No. 2 singles.
Caroline Brammer, Holly Springs: Herrick has tasked his four seniors to bring the team together, and Brammer has stepped up as a leader. “Those young ladies are doing a great job,” Herrick said. “They are doing a great job of making us a team.”
Having two head coaches can be a problem, but it hasn’t been an issue for Apex.
“I had (Phelps) my freshman year, and he is an awesome coach,” Romano said. “We’re happy to have him back. He’s been really helpful and nice. We definitely miss (Thomas); she’s very intense about tennis and has a good attitude. Both coaches are great.”
Thomas is expected back for Monday’s match against Friendship.
Holly Springs started well at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, leading both matches 3-2. But Natalie Melech and Sydney Oyler at No. 2 rallied to win 8-3 and Caroline Roshelle and Sloan Smith at No. 3 came back to win 8-5.
“They started off fairly slow today,” Phelps said. “They were down a break early in the match, but toward the end of the set started being more aggressive and finished the match really well. I was proud of how those two doubles teams competed.”
Oyler and Smith have shown marked improvement for this season.
“Sloan Smith has gotten a ton better,” Romano said. “Sydney’s gotten a lot better, and I think they’ll both get us some good wins this season.”
Out of bounds
Herrick keeps a list of odd happenings at every match, and Wednesday he saluted Brammer for having “the slowest ace of the match.”
“We know we’re not the best out there, so we just want to play tennis and learn from our opponents,” Brammer said. “We like being with each other, and it’s fun.”
Both teams are looking to the future, though Holly Springs is looking a little farther down the road. Freshmen Emma Allan at No. 4 singles and Samantha Mitchell at No. 5 singles are part of group that could emerge as SWAC contenders in a couple years.
“There are a ton of new freshmen girls, and we’re trying to build up the team so in the future it will be really great,” Brammer said. “We’re really close to Sunset Ridge (Racquet & Swim Club), so there’s a lot of tennis involvement in the community.”
The first step is to build some team unity, and ice-cream socials, sleepovers and pasta parties are planned for Holly Springs.
“One of our main goals is just to be unified as a team,” senior Cynthia Willford said. “I’m not in the top 12, but I still feel like I have a part on the team because the coach has been so great at having the seniors be part of that glue for the team. … We want to do well as a team, but we want to be friends and have a good time.”
Eventually, Herrick hopes that translates into more victories.
“We can do it,” Herrick said. “I honestly believe that these kids can pull it off, and I honestly think we can pull off a .500 season. The wins will come, and we’ll get this.
“Year three, we could be vying for some of the top spots.”