About two years ago, Cary’s Supriya Narisetti and Panther Creek’s Jordan Strickland and Sammi Smith were just starting on much different tennis journeys that intertwined on Wednesday at Cary Tennis Park.
Narisetti, a senior, returned to the courts this year after a hip injury sidelined her for a year and a half. Now she’s the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference girls’ tennis singles champion.
Strickland and Smith, both juniors, are the SWAC doubles champions for the second time, the first coming as freshmen. Since then, they’ve been chasing history with two NCHSAA Class 4A doubles state titles in as many years.
Narisetti defeated Green Hope junior Karena Zhang in the SWAC singles title 6-3, 6-1. She had to gather herself after a long semifinal win against Panther Creek sophomore Amanda Cyr.
But after her injury and triumphant return this season, she was used to making a comeback.
“I was really tired, but I just pushed myself to be more active and energetic out there to get to as many balls as possible,” Narisetti said. “I’ve always loved to play tennis. To be back on the court is something I like.
“I just love the game. So much of my life has been surrounded by tennis, so without it, it’s just kind of blank.”
She’s the second Cary player to win the league singles title in the past three years. The Imps were winless in the regular season, but Narisetti enjoyed being a helpful teammate to Cary’s beginning players.
“We’re all really close friends, and I always tried to help them as much as I can,” Narisetti said.
Catamounts coach Nathaniel Blalock gave his undivided attention to the doubles court. Strickland and Smith were going against teammates in an all-Panther Creek final.
The duo, which has lost only twice in their high school careers as partners, defeated sophomore Ashani Tingare and junior Savannah Gray 6-1, 6-0.
“It was different. We’ve never had to play our own teammates. ... It was fun, but it was a little bit awkward,” Smith said.
The duo hasn’t lost this year.
“They are good players, but they’re better friends,” Blalock said. “Like how twins have that unspoken language, they kind of had that on the court. They know each other so well and know what to expect from each other.”
Panther Creek, the reigning 4A team champs, went undefeated this year and will try to repeat in the coming weeks.
“It hasn’t been about maintaining, it’s about improving. We think we can get better,” Blalock said.
Panther Creek and Green Hope qualified all six players in their lineups for next week’s 4A Mideast regionals, which means the Falcons and Catamounts will enter the individual part of the season with a dual-team feeling.
“It’s been fun, being able to share that with the whole team,” Strickland said.
“It’s a great achievement because everyone worked so hard for it,” Zhang said. “I love my team, so I’m glad we all get to move on and nobody gets left behind.”
In addition to its doubles teams, Panther Creek is sending two singles players – Cyr and junior Orla LaBiche.
Green Hope is sending Zhang along with senior Jurasia Horvat, who got the SWAC’s fifth and final spot in regionals, in singles. The Falcons advanced junior Ellie Ackerson and senior Logan Castrodale in doubles, as well as junior Sarah Ackerson and freshman Ana Horvat.
Middle Creek’s doubles team of senior Shaye McAuliffe and freshman Jenna Stachowiak got the league’s final regional spot.