On Oct. 1, 2013, Panther Creek girls’ tennis fell to Broughton 5-4. Since then, it’s only been perfection.
Panther Creek defeated their Highway 55 counterpart, Green Hope, 9-0, Thursday evening, winning its 40th straight game and clinching its fourth consecutive Southwestern Wake Athletic Conference title.
With seniors making up Panther Creek’s Nos. 1-3 (Sammi Smith, Jordan Strickland, Orla Labiche), the Catamounts have experience on their side as they try for theirthird consecutive NCHSAA 4A championship.
“We’ve all grown so much closer over the years,” Smith said. “We all want a (state championship) and to go out well together.”
Green Hope, which has fallen to Panther Creek in the East semifinals the past two years, still stands as the Catamounts’ biggest threat in the state tournament. After falling to Broughton in 2013, Panther Creek defeated the Capitals in the playoffs, something Green Hope coach Pam Gilbert thinks they have a shot at.
“We’re going to keep working hard, we want to see them again in the Eastern semis, that’s been our goal,” Gilbert said.
Smith, a Penn State recruit, took straight sets (6-0, 6-2) against Green Hope’s biggest threat, Karena Zhang, to give Panther Creek a 4-0 lead. “After four years (of playing each other), it’s going to get intense,” Smith said. “It was more competitive than the score says. I’m lucky to have won.”
They said it
“We have four seniors who all of their own style, when they leave next year, we’ll certainly miss them. They’re leaving behind a program in good hands.” – Panther Creek coach Nathaniel Blalock.
Three who mattered
Sammi Smith, Panther Creek: Smith’s energy was crucial in the Catamounts No. 1 victories.
Jordan Strickland, Panther Creek: Strickland’s play near the net kept the Falcons at bay in the No. 1 doubles, with her powerful blocks holding off any chance of a Green Hope comeback attempt.
Karena Zhang, Green Hope: Zhang gave Smith arguably her toughest competition of the season in their No. 1 singles match.
By the numbers
8: Shutouts by Panther Creek this year.
5: Consecutive shutouts from Panther Creek.
723: Days since Panther Creek last lost.