With “first-year” coach Nick Walker looking, East Chapel Hill’s tennis team looked like it never missed a beat Monday evening after the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Linker Linker.
East Chapel Hill visited Carrboro for a final tune-up before opening its PAC-6 season. Carrboro’s Jesse Ille and Abby Rader won their singles on courts No. 1 and 2 Monday, but East took two doubles wins to secure the team match.
All playing pro-set matches, East ninth-grader Savannah Bright won at No. 3 singles, while teammates Isabel Green, Jocelyn Reckford and Cassidy Bright all won fairly easily, giving up 4 games total among them.
“East is really a deep team, with so many players who work hard all year,” Carrboro coach Jon Noyes said. “This is good for us.”
“This is definitely good for us,” Ille echoed. “We play some matches out of conference, but East has a lot more good players than most teams.”
With the sun setting behind the tall pines west of the Carrboro courts, Ille and Rader were ahead 6-3 in their pro-set double match when Walker and Noyes opted to call it day and halted play.
“Ding-ding,” Walker said to his players. “Time for the dinner bell.”
Walker was a long-time coach at Chapel Hill High School before being coaxed out of retirement by Linker to take over East’s fall team, which has never failed to win its conference’s crown since the school opened.
“There may be a rivalry here, but it’s friendly,” Walker said as he readied to drive East’s players from the Carrboro campus. “It was the same way when I first got to Chapel Hill. We were rivals with East, but all the girls know each other; they train together. I’d say they feel a more serious rivalry with the Raleigh teams.”
Noyes and his players got the same thing out of Monday’s scrimmage — the last one allowed to high school tennis teams by NCHSAA rules before the start of official competition this week — as did Chapel Hill: a chance to play against quality opponents and maybe a step toward settling the lineup.
Ille, Rader and Ermine Arcasoy “are pretty much locked in” at 1-2-3 – for now – for Carrboro, Noyes said. “ Anna Kemper, Rachel McCown and Isabel Chung played 4-5-6 Monday for Carrboro, and they’re in the mix for a starting spot along with Zahra Goodwin and Chapel Hill High sophomore transfer Emily Easthom, but the lineup won’t be set until challenge matches are finished, Noyes noted.
“The bottom section of the lineup is up for grabs,” Noyes said. “And even the 1, 2 and 3 could be challenged. We’ll have to play it out.”
East Chapel Hill is in a similar situation. Last year’s PAC-6 champion, Victoria Jones, sat out Monday’s scrimmage with an ankle she twisted while jogging. Iskra Joksimovic played at No. 1 and Madison Lewis at 2 Monday. They and Jones will have to play off among themselves to ultimately settle who starts at No. 1 during most of the season.
East opens its regular season with a match Tuesday at PAC-6 rival Roxboro Person. Carrboro, defending champion of the 2A Mid-State Conference, opens next week with a home match Monday with 3A Cedar Ridge.
Carrboro will host 3A Chapel Hill on Sept. 24 for a non-conference match but won’t have a regular-season match with 4A East Chapel Hill.