High School Sports

N&O girls tennis preview: Panther Creek loaded in quest for third consecutive 4A title

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Panther Creek enters this season on a 25-match winning streak, and it doesn’t look like another in-state foe will stop it.

The Catamounts have an embarrassment of riches.

Panther Creek returns its entire lineup from last year’s state title team, including three-time 4A doubles champs Sammi Smith and Jordan Strickland. Smith is ranked No. 1 in the state among seniors, Strickland No. 3 and teammate Orla LaBiche is No. 9.

Cardinal Gibbons, last year’s 3A champ, will give Panther Creek some competition as it moves up to 4A.

Teams to watch

Apex (12-5): The Cougars made the 4A playoffs as a wild-card team last season and bring back junior Elizabeth Johnson and seniors Melissa Romano and Sydney Oylan.

Broughton (17-2): Bad news for everyone else – the Capitals had five freshmen on last year’s two-loss team.

Cardinal Gibbons (28-0): The Crusaders return four top singles players: 2014 NCHSAA tournament MVP Lizzie Galush, who’s moving up to No. 1; Jenna Knors, one half of the 3A doubles champs; Summer Jacobs and Kate Freed. Junior Caroline Igo looks ready to break into the top six after playing at No. 7 last year, and the varsity’s final singles spots likely to come down to two sisters; juniors Kristen and ninth-grader Karly Fitzgerald.

Carrboro (15-3): Sophomore Jessie Ille had just one loss – in the NCHSAA 2A singles championship. She and returning letter-winners Abby Rader and Emine Arcasoy helped the Jaguars reach the 2A East final.

Cary Academy (26-2): The Chargers were the NCISAA 3A runner-up by a narrow 5-4 margin. Junior Ellie Johnson and sophomores Camryn Rossa and Taylor Timinskas are back.

Chapel Hill (14-7): Incoming ninth-grader Carolina Coch could contend for the No. 1 singles spot. Returning letter-winners Gabe Chew, Gabby Kimec, Hailey Polsky, Emily Molina and Joy Stouffer still face challenges from newcomers Christina Park and Ellen Yu.

Clayton (17-1): Two-time Greater Neuse champ Carmelle Joyner is a junior. The Comets have 78 straight conference victories and graduated just one player from last year’s team. Also back: Stephanie Rushing, Hannah Kellum and Stephanie Wilder.

Garner (11-4): Junior lefty Christine Wilkins played No. 3 last season and sophomore Hannah Byrd was No. 7. With the cupboard almost bare otherwise, second-year coach Morgan Jones gave just about everyone on the softball team a racket.

Green Hope (16-6): The Falcons have fallen in the 4A East final to Panther Creek in back-to-back years. Senior Karena Zhang is ranked No. 6 in the state. Seniors Ellie and Sara Ackerson and sophomore Ana Horvat also return.

East Chapel Hill (19-3): The Wildcats have won the conference title every year since it opened in 1996. But two things have changed since last year: NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach Lindsey Linker has retired, and Cardinal Gibbons has joined the PAC-6. Veteran Chapel Hill High coach Nick Walker, at Linker’s personal request, came out of retirement last month to take over the program this fall. The Wildcats have defending PAC-6 singles champion Victoria Jones back for her sophomore season.

N.C. Science and Math (12-1): The NCHSAA 2A runner-up returns single state qualifier Katherine Li and doubles qualifier Sara Yuan.

North Raleigh Christian (15-5): Lauren French and Anne Woodard are the only two seniors on a team that will feature three middle school-aged players.

Panther Creek (20-0): Should Smith and Strickland win the 4A doubles title this year, they will become just the second pair to win four NCHSAA doubles championships together. Amanda Cyr, No. 7 among juniors, junior Aishani Tingare and senior Savannah Gray round out last year’s top six.

Sanderson (18-3): The co-Cap-8 champs have 27 varsity players. Freshman Sibel Tanik, Safia Anthony, Dylan Cannon, Kate Griffin and Hannah Scott-Holshouser should keep the Spartans one of the state’s best.

St. David’s (17-3): The Warriors made it three in a row, taking the NCISAA 2A title again.

Triton (10-2): The Two Rivers 3A champs will have good competition for their No. 1 spot with seniors Emily Neville and Madison Newton.

Union Pines (14-3): Cape Fear Valley Conference champs are led by 3A singles qualifiers Julianne Hall, a junior, and senior Mary Beth Jackson.

Voyager Academy (10-7): The NCHSAA 1A runner-up loses its top player from last year.

Wakefield (12-5): The Wolverines were ranked 10th in the state and return two-time 4A champ Susanne Boyden, a senior.

West Johnston (12-6): The Greater Neuse runner-ups’ goal is to go back to the state playoffs. Top returning players are senior Katherine Serrell and junior Sabrina Fink.

J. Mike Blake: 919-460-2606, @JMBpreps

Mike Potter and Elliott Warnock contributed.

Individuals to watch

Player, Cl., School

Accomplishments

Lauren Laughton, So., Riverside

4A singles state qualifier

Sarah Morse, Jr., Jordan-Matthews

2A doubles state qualifier

Jenna Stachowiak, So., Mid. Creek

4A doubles tate qualifier

Katherine Stallings, So., St. Mary’s

.750 winning pct.

Lindsay Tate, Sr., Jordan-Matthews

2A doubles state qualifier

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