The new pilot seeding process from the N.C. High School Athletic Association showed its teeth on Tuesday afternoon as Cap-8 Conference champion Sanderson hosted three-time defending girls tennis state champion Panther Creek in a first round 4A dual team tournament match.
The Catamounts, the sixth seed out of the Mideast, took the first five singles matches in straight sets before the Spartans captured No. 6 singles in the 5-1 victory.
Panther Creek (16-2) advances to next Tuesday’s second round where it will travel to fellow Southwest Wake Conference foe Green Hope – a 5-1 winner over Rolesville. It was the 16th straight postseason victory for the Catamounts, who last lost to Broughton in the third round in 2012.
It sets up a third meeting between Panther Creek, which finished second in the SWAC, and the Falcons (17-1). Green Hope won 5-3 on Sept. 1 and 6-3 on Sept. 28.
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“I think there are some flaws with the way (the playoff process) works,” Panther Creek head coach Nathaniel Blalock said. “And I’m sure the Association will look at it.”
He continued: “But we’ve had tough roads in the past. This was definitely the toughest first-round match we’ve had, boys or girls. It’s a good test to get us ready for Green Hope.”
Catamounts’ No. 1 seed Amanda Cyr said Panther Creek is eager to get its shot at Green Hope.
“It feels great to get this win over a very good Sanderson team,” she said. “We know we have Green Hope next, and we know they beat us twice. A point here, or a point there and it could have swung the other way. ... It’s mental. We know we can win, we’ve just got to be ready to play.”
Sanderson, which finished at 15-2, has much to be proud of senior captain Sofia Anthony said.
“We have come such a long way since freshman year,” she said. “Then, we were just hoping to win half of our matches. Now, we’ve won conference championships and gone undefeated (in conference). We expect to win. ... Today, we expected to compete. We thought we could win this, and we’re a little disappointed it wasn’t closer.”
Spartans head coach Joe Mesiano praised his team afterward.
“I told my girls,” he said. “’The key to anything when you go home tonight is when you put your head on the pillow, you say to yourself ‘Did I play as well as I could? Did I try? Did I ever give up?’ And if you are all happy with all of that, you can sleep like an angel.’ ... And I thought all of my girls did that. Panther Creek knows how to win. Having won three straight state championships, they have that winning mentality.”
The Catamounts jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead as freshman No. 5 seed Leann Blanc finished off Melissa Warren in just 41 minutes 6-0, 6-0.
Not far behind was Aishani Tingare at No. 4. The senior captain defeated Becca Bollinger 6-1, 6-1.
Cyr defeated sophomore Sibel Tonik 6-3, 6-0 at No. 1; freshman Bella Steffens won 6-4, 6-0 at No. 2 over junior Anna Scott Holshouser and sophomore Melody Zhang won 6-2, 6-1 over Anthony.
The Spartans’ players all gathered to cheer on No. 6 seed freshman Claire Spickard as her match with freshman Halle Fernstrum went to a tie-breaker.
“That’s been us all year,” Mesiano said. “We’re 15-2, so 17 matches that’s us. It’s part of being a team. Of teamwork.”
Spickard was able to get the 7-5, 2-6, 10-5 victory to avoid the shutout for the hosts.