It looked like Sanderson was heading for an outright Cap-8 Conference girls tennis title.
But a freshman and a sophomore made a historic rally instead.
Leesville defeated Sanderson 5-4 on Thursday to earn a share of the Cap-8 title, the first in Pride history, as the No. 3 doubles team of sophomore Irene Michalakis and freshman Helen Alvis came back from down 7-3 to win 9-8 with a 7-3 tiebreaker for the match.
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The Pride (13-1, 13-1) pulled it out as the duo got more composed.
“In the beginning they were a little bit hesitant, they were very nervous. They were just sitting back and no one would be the agressor,” coach Monica Shea-Henderson said. “Then they started moving forward and they started hitting their strokes.”
As the pressure mounted, they played more composed, belying conventional wisdom.
“It was a lot of pressure, but we pulled through,” Michalakis said.
Alvis said: “My stomach was in knots.”
The Pride’s turnaround this year has been thanks to No. 1 sophomore Lauren Robbins, junior No. 2 Kylie Rigsby, freshman No. 3 Avery Mataka, freshman No. 4 Alexa Dwomoh, freshman No. 5 Camden Clark and No. 6 Alvis.
Shea-Henderson runs a no-cut program and the result is a whopping 48 players, about half varsity and the others JV. Through that, interest has skyrocketed at the school. Just a few years ago, only 10 players were on the team.
This is Sanderson’s third straight title, the second co-title, in the program’s recent renaissance.
The Spartans (14-1, 13-1) are led by sophomore No. 1 Sibel Tanik, junior No. 2 Anna Scott Holshouser, senior No. 3 Sofia Anthony, sophomore No. 4 Becca Bollinger, senior No. 5 Melissa Warren and sophomore No. 6 Meg Spickard.
“Most of my players play year-round and workout mostly with their parents who played college tennis,” said coach Joe Mesiano by email. Mesiano was not at the match, which was rescheduled from earlier, due to a prior engagement. “We primarily work on strategy since all of my players have excellent ground strokes; however they need to work a lot of strategy of the game.”
Tanik and Anthony were semifinalists last year in 4A doubles and Mesiano said the pair will be competing together again this year in the state tournament.