Panther Creek enters this year having won 46 straight matches including the last three N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls tennis championships, but the Catamounts will look different this year.
Gone are Jordan Strickland and Sammi Smith, the second duo in NCHSAA history to win four straight titles. Cardinal Gibbons, Sanderson and Green Hope are among Panther Creek’s biggest challengers this season.
The N&O 17-county area went 1-3 in last year’s NCHSAA finals. Union Pines (3A), N.C. School of Science and Math (2A) and Raleigh Charter (1A) came up short but Wayne Country Day (1A) and St. David’s (2A) kept N.C. Independent School Athletic Association title streaks going.
Sanderson (17-1) dethroned Broughton (15-3) from its perch as perennial Cap-8 champs, a position the Caps have held for decades. The Spartans have their top four back: Sibel Tanik, Dylan Cannon, Anna Scott Holshouser and Sofia Anthony. Tanik and Anthony were 4A doubles semifinalists while Cannon and Holshouser were qualifiers.
Broughton returns four starters including No. 1 singles player Hunter Cox.
Leesville Road (10-6) is led by No. 1 Lauren Robbins, a sophomore, and Enloe (10-6) brings back five starters including junior Nija Price and sophomore Catherine Battle. Millbrook (7-7) should be improved with another year of sophomores Brianna Taranto and Shea Cirillo.
Greater Neuse 4A
Clayton (18-1) hasn’t lost a conference match since this year’s seniors were in middle school. No. 1 Carmelle Joyner is the top Comets player. West Johnston (15-3) will be led by Sabrina Fink and Jessica Reese. Garner (11-7) has Christine Wilkins and Cassidy Wilson returning at the top of the lineup.
Cardinal Gibbons (23-2) is loaded with top three players Lizzie Galush (3A doubles champ in 2013), Jenna Knors (3A doubles champ in 2014) and Caroline Igo (doubles semifinalist last year) all back. Galush and Knors were runner-up in doubles last year.
East Chapel Hill (13-5), runner-up in the PAC-6, is led by sophomore Savannah Bright. Riverside (15-5), which made the playoffs as a wild-card, is led by Sophie Bischoff. Bischoff and Bright were both quarterfinalists in singles.
Southwest Wake 4A
Panther Creek (21-0) had so much depth last year that 4A singles runner-up Amanda Cyr – who was also the SWAC singles champion – was the No. 4 player on the Catamounts. Aishani Tingare and Melody Zhang, state doubles qualifiers, are also back.
Green Hope (20-3), which reached the final four for the fourth straight year, returns Ana Horvat (state singles qualifier), Adithi Rao and state doubles qualifiers Cynthia Xio and Sophia Gray.
Apex (12-5), a wild-card playoff team, brings back four of its top six.
Eastern Carolina 4A/3A
C.B. Aycock (16-5), co-conference champ with 4A New Bern, returns Grayson Lane and Meredith Jones.
Eastern Wayne senior Elizabeth Sutton is back after making the 3A singles state tournament and J.H. Rose junior Frances Reed returns after making 4A singles.
Claudia and Chappy Ray, Emma Landry and Emily Hodges return for Southeastern Conference champ Pinecrest (14-5) after qualifying for last year’s state individual tournament (Landy in singles, the rest in doubles).
Big 8 3A
Chapel Hill (16-3) rolled to the Big 8 title. Caroline Cocha, Gabby Kmiec and Ellen Yu were state doubles qualifiers. Cedar Ridge (8-9), which finished second, has its full lineup back.
Big East 3A
Rocky Mount (14-1) returns Brenna Bryant – a 3A doubles semifinalists – Sarah Bland and Grace Warner are back. Fike (16-3) returns No. 1 player Cameron Milne.
Two Rivers 3A
Corinth Holders (13-2) brings back three of its starters for the conference champions: Alex Rodier, Cecilia Fricke and Isabella Duncan. Triton (14-3) graduated its top two and will be led by Bailey Williams and Hailey Melgarejo.
Union Pines (15-2) got all the way to the 3A championship before finishing runner-up. The Vikings have half of their starters back including state doubles champ Hailee Haymore, singles qualifier Julianne Hall and Sarah Nicholson.
Northern Carolina 2A
N.C. School of Science (12-1) returns Rosemary Lin and Katherine Li, who like the rest of the Unicorns, went undefeated in the regular season. Durham School of the Arts (10-4) is led by 2A singles semifinalist Rachel Rice.
East regional runner-up Carrboro (15-3) loses its No. 1 singles player but returns everyone else. Emily Easthorn was a singles state qualifier while Emine Arcasoy made up one-half of a state doubles qualifying team.
Jordan-Matthews (15-4), second to Carrboro in the Mid-State 2A, returns state doubles duo Sarah Morse and Marshall Phillips along with three other starters.
Eastern Plains champ Beddingfield (15-5) brings back four of its top six including last year’s No. 3 singles player Sabrina Wasilewski.
North Central Athletic 1A
The strongest 1A league in the state is led by state runner-up Raleigh Charter (14-1). The Phoenix have four of their top six back including state singles qualifier Camryn McClure.
Franklin Academy (13-3) has four back including Bonnie Morgan and state doubles qualifiers Claire Joyner and Danielle Park. Voyager Academy (8-7) is home to 1A singles runner-up Morgan Blount, a junior.
Central Tar Heel Conference champ Chatham Charter (17-2) went all the way to the West semifinals last year and returns five starters, led by No. 1 Katya Langdon, a state singles qualifier.
Louisburg (8-4), the Tar-Roanoke champ, brings back two starters: Sophie Taylor and Cassidy Dula. Rosewood (11-1), the Carolina 1A Conference champ, returns No. 1 player Faith Baker.
Chatham Central (10-4) state doubles semifinalists Courtney Williamson and Lindsey Batten are back.
Cary Academy (18-7), a 3A semifinalist and TISAC champ, returns its top two players in Ellie Johnson and Taylor Timinskas.
Durham Academy (15-6), runner-up to Cary Academy in the TISAC, returns sophomore all-state player Joy Callwood.
St. David’s (15-2) won its fourth straight 2A championship and will return its top two players in Beatrice and Alice Holding. Trinity Academy of Raleigh’s Kylie Rigsby, Rocky Mount Academy’s Julia High and Carolina Friends’ Noor Sandhu are back from the all-state team.
Wayne Country Day (17-1) defeated Kerr-Vance (17-2) for the 1A title and returns three of its top four: Jennifer Potts, Ally Willman and Eliza Eagles. Greenfield School’s Avery Vester was all-state as a freshman.