Mandisa Ebri and Nicole Root had to get out of their comfort zone Thursday during the doubles final at the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference girls tennis championships.
It took two sets and nearly two hours for it to happen, but the Garner duo did and turned back Clayton’s Maya Guha and Sydney Rushing 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 for the tournament title and a high seeding in next weekend’s regional tournament.
Clayton sophomore Carmelle Joyner wrapped up a similar high regional seeding with a dominating performance in the singles’ bracket. Joyner, the defending conference champion, didn’t drop a game in four matches on her way to the title.
Joyner beat Comets teammate Katherine Riley in the championship match. Riley rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the third set against Knightdale’s Diamond Odouk in the semifinals, winning six of the final seven games of the match for a decision.
Playing her doubles partner in the final was a weird experience for Joyner.
“You know that they know what your strengths are, and you know what their strengths are, so it’s different,” Joyner said. “You try to balance changing things up and playing to your strengths as well.”
Joyner, 18-0 against conference opponents this season, said she worked to improve her volley game this season. Winning a second straight conference singles title is something she has thought about all season.
“I came into the tournament thinking, ‘OK, I know I can do this because I’ve done it before,’ ” she said. “So I had the confidence in myself to get it done.”
In the doubles championship match, both teams opted more toward a super conservative approach instead of an aggressive style of play, resulting in point after point of long rallies with looping shots.
Before the start of the third set, Root and Ebri talked about changing their approach. “We had to be more aggressive,” Root said. “We had to get our game more upbeat. Once we won the first game the way we did, we knew we could carry that over.”
The pair quickly took a 3-0 lead and never looked back on the way to their conference championship.
“From the beginning of the third set, we played more aggressively and with more confidence,” Ebri said.
The top six finishing teams in singles and doubles moved onto the regional round.
Odouk beat Rolesville’s Nikoro Uzoho 6-4, 6-4 in the third-place match. Garner had the other two regional qualifiers in singles with Montana Dare and Tiamber Goode. Dare beat Goode 6-3, 6-1 in the fifth-place match.
The West Johnston doubles teams of Katherine Serrell and Veronica McLean and Sabrina Fink and Carmen Juarez also qualified. Serrell and McLean will be the No. 3 regional seed from the conference.
And for the first time in school history, Clayton – which has won 78 consecutive dual matches in the conference and seven straight team championships – will send each of its top six players to the regional round. In addition to Joyner and Riley in singles and Guha and Rushing in doubles, the Comets also qualified their doubles team of Stephanie Wilder and Hannah Kellum.
West Johnston is the conference’s No. 2 dual playoffs seed after defeating Garner 5-4 in a seeding match earlier in the week. Garner could still be in the running for a wild-card berth.