Quite possibly the finest season in Cleveland girls tennis history came to a disappointing end on Tuesday.
The Rams couldn’t overcome a deficit following singles play, eventually losing 6-3 to visiting Rocky Mount in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A dual-team tennis playoffs.
The Gryphons (14-2) avenged a regular-season loss to Cleveland (15-3) and move on to the third round for the fourth straight year. Cleveland was making its first appearance in the second round.
“We have had a lot of improvement throughout the season individually as well as a team as a whole,” Cleveland coach Emily Purvis said. “It wasn’t as evident (Tuesday) as I would have liked it to have been, that’s especially tough since we had already beaten Rocky Mount during the season.”
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That victory over Rocky Mount came on Aug. 22, a 6-3 road win that produced the Gryphons’ lone non-league loss of the season.
Things went considerably different this time, as Rocky Mount seized a 4-2 lead after singles play. Needing only one victory in the final three doubles matches, the Gryphons got that quickly as No. 2 doubles team Sarah Bland and Carson Browder rolled to the decisive point with a 10-0 victory over Cleveland’s pair of Sarah Rose and Abby Seirgent.
“We knew we had (already) lost to them so it was going to be a tough match,” Bland said. “But we made some adjustments, we felt we had gotten better this whole year. We felt like if we played our best we had a great chance to win.”
She continued: “It was great having that cushion going into doubles, if it had been 3-3 it would have been a little harder.”
Cleveland’s lone singles winners were Victoria Dixon, a 6-0, 6-0 winner over Bland at No. 1 singles, and Raleigh Keenan, who defeated Lauryn Clark, 6-1, 6-0 at No. 6 singles. Dixon and Kala Smith teamed at No. 1 doubles for an 8-2 victory over Grace Warner and Katie Moss after the team outcome was decided.
Rocky Mount built its 4-2 lead through singles play courtesy of a quartet of straight-sets victories.
Warner defeated Smith, 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 singles, Moss defeated Rose, 6-4, 6-2 at No. 3 singles, Caroline Broderick defeated Seirgent, 6-0, 6-0 at No. 4 singles and Browder won 6-0, 6-1 at No. 5 singles over AnnaKate Gilchrist.
“We’re a very consistent team, and it took a little while for the girls to believe in consistency,” Rocky Mount coach Barry Nethercutt said. “They made the commitment to just hitting another ball, hitting another ball. That’s how we’ve been successful, running every ball down.”
Purvis acknowledged her team was hindered Tuesday by illness, as three starters were dealing with maladies ranging from walking pneumonia to a stomach bug, but she felt Rocky Mount also deserved considerable praise for its performance.
“Rocky Mount has definitely improved since the first time we played them,” Purvis said. “If we were a little bit healthier and up to par, it might have made a difference, or maybe we would have stunk it up, who knows.”
Tuesday marked the final scholastic matches for Nixon and Smith, two of four seniors on the roster along with Ally Knowles and Kayley Clifton. Nixon, a singles quarterfinalist at the NCSHAA 3A individual championships this year, will be particularly missed.
Cleveland, however, should return the rest of its starting lineup next season as Rose, Seirgent and Gilchrist are sophomores and Keenan is a freshman, positioning the Rams for the defense of the Two Rivers 3A title they won this season with a 10-0 league record.
“I have a good core coming back and one that will be here (for a couple of more years),” Purvis said. “That’s definitely a good thing to maintain a solid program.”