N.C. School of Science and Math was a runner-up in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A girls tennis dual-team championship for the sixth straight season (two in 1A and the last four in 2A) with a 5-3 loss to Lake Norman Charter.
It was the Knights’ third straight title, all three against NCSSM (10-1).
The Unicorns – making their 10th straight appearance in the title – made a gutsy effort against undefeated Lake Norman Charter (16-0).
The Knights led 3-0 thanks to wins by No. 1 Olivia Archer won 6-0, 6-0 over Vinitha Ravindran, No. 2 Lauren Bush won 6-0, 6-2 over Grace Miller and No. 4 Zoe Panizza won 6-1, 6-3 Ellen Yu. NCSSM’s No. 6 Tanisha Paul won 6-4, 6-1 over Nithya Sampath to make it 3-1.
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The Unicorns were faced two third-set tiebreakers. Losing both would have ended the match. Instead, NCSSM won them both: No. 3 Adithi Rao 2-6, 6-4 (10-1) over Lauren Loveless and No. 5 Emma Wright 6-4, 0-6 (12-10) over Annie Thomas.
“I’m very proud of the way the girls fought. We knew it was going to be uphill, we’ve played them the last two years,” NCSSM coach Richard McClenny said. “We were down 3-2 on that second court doubles and I was thinking we had a chance, but (Lake Norman Charter) turned it around.”
Archer and Panizza won 10-0 at No. 1 doubles on Ravindran and Miller, while Bush and Loveless clinched the match at No. 2 with a 10-2 victory over Yu and Wright.
“It was a lot closer than last time. We had a really good base of support this year,” said Ravindran, who is from Cornelius.
Building a program at NCSSM is done differently due to its status as a two-year residential school, the only one of its kind in the NCHSAA.
The academic rigor means the Unicorns don’t play as many dual matches as their fellow opponents. Only having players when they’re juniors and seniors works well for experience, but doubles teams must gel quickly.
“It’s a really unique experience starting your junior year with a whole new team of girls that you’ve never met before. At your home school, sometimes you’ve known these girls since you were in kindergarten,” Miller, who is from Jefferson. “It’s really unique and special because we get to form relationships even quicker.”
And while opponents like Lake Norman Charter can build programs over time, NCSSM’s 10-year stretch of championship appearances has happened across five incoming classes (the number would be three for a four-year public high school).
“We saw these (Lake Norman Charter) girls as freshmen and we saw them as juniors and, three of them, we’ll see again next year as seniors,” McClenny said.
Rao, a junior, was destined to play on Saturday no matter what. She transferred in from Green Hope, which was playing on opposite courts at the Burlington Tennis Center, finishing runner-up in 4A.