The similarities are hard to miss.
Neither of the East Wake or Knightdale girls tennis coaches has been in the position for more than two years and neither team knows the luxury of a steady stream of year-round players on its lineup. The latter truth was a big factor in the absence of dual team playoff implications when the Knights hosted the Warriors for a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference match on Monday.
But the conclusion of their two-match series, which East Wake won 7-2 for the season sweep, still served as another important chance to progress toward the goals each squad has laid out.
East Wake (4-7) had a Tuesday match with GNRC No. 2 West Johnston before facing home and away matches with Harnett Central, scheduled to close out the regular season Monday, Oct. 10.
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Though coach Garry Allmon had his sights on going 2-0 in the final matches, he planned on giving his oldest players – not all of whom normally fill the top of his lineup – starting spots on their Oct. 5 Senior Night against the Trojans.
“I’m going to let it be,” Allmon said. “(The senior) players have worked hard. I know it could be hard on the other girls if they don’t (win), but I don’t think the girls will complain about it. This is a good group of girls.”
East Wake returned four starters from last year’s team: Malaika Nzau, Bailey Watkins, Kate Williams and Eboni Montague.
Knightdale (1-9) returned just three: Diamond Oduok, Andrea Diaz and Deborah Fawehimni.
“Everyone else had never played tennis before, but they’ve improved so much and it’s just been awesome to watch them grow and hear them comment on, ‘Hey, look at how improved I am,’” said first-year Knights coach Cally Hudson, who was assistant coach last year.
Hudson expects Fawehimni will join Oduok to make up Knightdale’s singles representatives in the GNRC tournament, scheduled to begin Oct. 13.
She also expects Oduok, the team’s year-round-playing ace, will make the regional tournament for the third straight year.
“This being her senior year, I know she has high expectations for the regional tournament and beyond,” Hudson said.
Oduok through Monday had won all but two singles matches on the season, falling only to Clayton’s Carmelle Joyner and Rolesville’s Jade Houston. She faced a rematch with Joyner Tuesday (Oct. 4) and will see Houston again Monday (Oct. 10).
For Oduok, there’s some redemption to be had at the regional event, where she reached the second stage as a sophomore but bowed out in the first round last year, earlier than expected.
“It definitely is important to me,” Oduok said. “Last year’s regional was not anywhere close to where I thought I should have been. It wasn’t that hard a match, but it was a totally different style of play than what I’m used to.”
Oduok gave the Knights one of their two wins Monday in a 6-1, 6-0 decision over Nzau.
East Wake claimed the rest of the singles matches: Montague over Fawehimni (6-1, 6-2); Watkins over Diaz (6-2, 6-0); Gabby Buchanan over Porcha Willis (6-0, 6-0); Camryn Lipford over Kacie Sturdivant (6-0, 6-0); and Judith Loredo over Gabby Davis (6-0, 6-0).
Oduok and Fawehimni got the best of Nzau and Montague, 8-5, in the No. 1 doubles match. Watkins and Buchanan defeated Diaz and Willis (8-1) at No. 2 and Kahira Scarboro and Alanah Mack topped Davis and Terri Brewster (8-1) in the No. 3 doubles match.