Smithfield: Sports

Hot starts put Cleveland, Corinth Holders in playoff race

The Pirates’ Tayah Hichue returns a volley during Corinth Holders’ tennis match against Cleveland Monday.
The Pirates’ Tayah Hichue returns a volley during Corinth Holders’ tennis match against Cleveland Monday. DAMON THOMAS

The girls’ tennis teams from Cleveland and Corinth Holders like to play the same kind of matches when they meet each other.

Take the past three meetings between the two third-year programs for example. In the fall of 2012, the two schools traded 6-3 wins.

This year, they both got off to 4-0 starts in dual matches, setting up Monday’s key early-season Two Rivers 3A Conference meeting.

It was close again with Cleveland prevailing 5-4 after winning a doubles tiebreaker with the play of Casey Quiel and Christina Holbrook. Quiel and Holbrook pulled away with five consecutive points to build a 7-1 lead in the tiebreaker on the way to a 10-2 victory against Corinth Holders’ Megan Dyer and Tayah Hichue.

The win moved Cleveland to 2-1 in the conference and 5-1 overall. Its only loss came to Triton, widely viewed as the league favorite. Monday’s decision was the first loss of the year for Corinth Holders (5-1, 2-1).

Cleveland swept wins in the top three seeded singles matches with freshman Victoria Dixon picking up a 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles against the Pirates’ Jordan Heiner. Amber Reese downed Dyer (6-2, 6-1) at No. 2, while Quiel completed the 1-2-3 Cleveland run of wins with a 6-1, 6-0 decision against Caitlynn Goff.

“We thought we had a well-stacked deck coming in with the players returning from last year,” said Cleveland coach Emily Purvis. “Then we added a freshman who came in and won the No. 1 spot. That just makes you stronger because you can push other players down deeper in your lineup.”

The Pirates’ Hichue (6-2, 0-6, 11-9 against Holbrook) and Chloe Fisher (7-6, 7-6 against Kara Odham) both used tiebreakers to win their matches at No. 4 and 5, respectively. Alex Rodier of Corinth Holders rolled to a 6-1, 6-0 win against Reagan Neville leaving the match at 3-all heading into doubles.

“We thought we could get a lead in singles but that didn’t work out as well as we wanted to,” Purvis said. “We lost tiebreakers in two of the three singles matches (we lost). We’re just not on the right side of those right now, but it’s still early in the year.”

Dixon and Reese rolled to an 8-0 win against Heiner and Goff at No. 1 doubles for Cleveland, while Fisher and Rodier were nearly as dominant in an 8-1 win against Odham and Natalie Dershem at No. 3 doubles.

That left the deciding No. 2 doubles match to be played and after the two sides split 16 games evenly, it came down to another tiebreaker.

“You get in those and the ball can bounce either way,” said Corinth Holders coach Jennifer Enyeart. “We got a couple but they got the last one.”

Vying for a playoff spot while battling Cleveland, Smithfield-Selma, South Johnston and Western Harnett is a big goal for Corinth Holders in its first season of 3A play. The quick start only helps that cause.

“As a team, we’ve really jelled together,” Enyeart said. “During the off-season everybody in our lineup joined racquet clubs or worked with a private instructor. It’s led to a lot of improvement individually.”

The most glaring example of that improvement is Dyer, a sophomore. Dyer never earned a ranked playing position last season as a freshman, then climbed the challenge ladder up to No. 2 singles in team qualifiers during the preseason.